A nonprofit corporation, E4 Carolinas, has formed around the Charlotte region’s growing energy cluster.
The group will take over an energy initiative launched in 2009 and continued, informally organized, under the Charlotte Regional Partnership, a 16-county economic development agency. Its name comes from focuses on energy, economy, environment and efficiency.
About 240 energy-related companies employ some 24,000 people in the Charlotte region. The sector has grown on the base of established companies such as Duke, Siemens and Shaw and includes the industry’s major players. They’re supported by research centers at UNC Charlotte and the Electric Power Research Institute.
Organizers say future demand and new fuel sources such as shale gas give the energy industry room to further grow.
E4 will work on energy policy issues but won’t lobby, said president Scott Carlberg. “We want to be a basis of real fact, real research,” he said. A kickoff event will be held Wednesday night at the Duke Energy Center uptown.
The cluster will focus on workforce development, leadership training and might hold professional development courses. Leaders will also try to support innovation in the region, boosting small companies that need startup capital.
“One of the takeaways from the Charlotte USA (energy initiative) is that I have never seen so many people in competing businesses willing to work together,” said Piedmont Natural Gas executive George Baldwin, who will co-chair the board with Duke Energy South Carolina president Clark Gillespy.
Companies represented by the 14 directors committed to providing three years of base support for the group. They are Piedmont, McKinsey & Co., General Microcircuits, UNCC’s Energy Production and Infrastructure Center, nexgrid, Areva, Duke Energy, Westinghouse Electric, Steag Energy Services, URS, Shaw’s Power Group, CALOR Energy, Lime Energy and Siemens Energy.
Baldwin said the cluster can help economic development, diversify the region’s energy businesses and improve collaboration with the renewable-energy sector, among other benefits.
The global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., which has a Charlotte office, assessed the benefits of formalizing the energy cluster. McKinsey talked to energy leaders, academics and other experts about existing clusters.
Like Silicon Valley’s concentration of semiconductor and software firms, most clusters involve related industries, universities and nonprofit groups. They typically have boards, direct industry involvement and dedicated staffs.
Clusters show their value in a variety of ways, said Ronak Bhatt, who led the McKinsey study and will serve on E4’s board.
They enhance productivity because companies have more access to experienced, mobile workforces. Connections among peers accelerate innovation, Bhatt said, accelerating job growth and tax revenues.
“We think the energy industry, directly and indirectly, can be similar to what the banking industry has been for the last decade or two,” Bhatt said.