Blu Homes Relocates Corporate HQ to California

Blu Homes, Inc., a leading provider of premium prefab homes, announced that it is relocating the company’s corporate headquarters to Mare Island in Vallejo, California.

Blu Homes factory in historic Building 680 on Mare Island, CA

Blu Homes factory in historic Building 680 on Mare Island, CA

Blu, which has until now been headquartered in Waltham, MA, will be moving to a new headquarters in a historic building at 1245 Nimitz on Mare Island.

The building, known as Building 680, had a major role in the rebuilding of America‚Äôs¬†Pacific Fleet after Pearl Harbor. It was at the heart of the¬†Mare Island Naval Shipyard’s shipbuilding and repair works during WWII.

The 1940 building is also an architectural gem and a part of the Mare Island Historic District. It was used as a machine ship until the mid-1990s, and has since been dormant until Blu Homes took it up in 2012 for a factory.

Blu CEO Bill Haney said that two decades after closing down, this elegant building now centers a new vision for premium home building and green manufacturing in America. He credited the tremendous work by Lennar’s Mare Island team in cleaning up and repositioning the landmark for the innovation economy.

Jason Keadjian, spokesperson for Lennar Mare Island, said Vallejo has always been a place where hardworking people and creative ideas have come together to build great things. He said Blu Homes is continuing that tradition on Mare Island, and they were proud to have the company as a major part of the growing business community.

Haney added that they began with the facility on Mare Island two years ago with 20 factory employees, but with this move they will now have more than 260 engineers, craftspeople, architects and professionals for project management, product development and the business side of the company.

Until this consolidation announcement, Blu Homes’ operations were widely dispersed, with their headquarters in Massachusetts, factory on Mare Island and offices in San Francisco.

Blu Homes COO Woody Bell said that by moving the headquarters to Mare Island and bringing all their business units under one roof, they will be able to increase collaboration and enhance innovation.

On Jan 27, the company also broke ground on a design center on Mare Island, preceded by a groundbreaking for another design center a couple of weeks ago in Los Angeles. Blu Homes is planning to set five more design homes in select cities across the U.S. this year and the next.

Blu Homes was founded in 2008 by Bill Haney, and the prefab homes they produce are built to be LEED certifiable using sustainably sourced raw materials such as recycled steel and reclaimed wood, and the homes are equipped with energy-efficient appliances. The Blu factory on Mare Island is a zero-landfill facility.

For home owners, there is a 70 percent average energy savings difference between a Blu Home and an ordinary stick built home.

U.S. Announces Five Zones Under Promise Zone Initiative

The first five of 20 planned Promise Zones under the federal Promise Zone Initiative that was unveiled last year are Los Angeles, San Antonio, Philadelphia, Southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

 Promise Zones

Promise Zones

Each of these Promise Zones will benefit from intensive federal support and assistance provided at the local level for implementing economic and community development goals.

Each of the selected Promise Zones has put forward a plan detailing how they plan to work with local businesses and community leaders to make investments that will expand opportunity and reward hard work.

Here’s a brief outline of what each Zone has proposed:-

San Antonio, Texas (Eastside Neighborhood) РFocus on job creation and training in key growth areas through a partnership with St. Philip’s College and others.

Empower children with the skills needed by increasing enrollment in quality pre-K programs and installing a STEM focus in the local school district. Offer adult education opportunities.

Facilitate neighborhood revitalization by expanding public safety, better street lighting and demolishing abandoned buildings.

Los Angeles, California (Pico Union, Westlake, Koreatown, Hollywood and East Hollywood) – Provide more affordable housing by preserving existing units and partnering with developers to add more affordable housing units.

Ensure youth have access to high-quality education, and prepare them for college and careers via the Promise Neighborhoods initiative. Partner with L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) and the Youth Policy Institute for expanding the Full Service Community Schools model from the current seven schools to all 45 Promise Zone schools by 2019.

Partner with the Los Angeles Community College District and career and technical training schools to provide technical training opportunities and prepare youths and adults for high-growth industries.

Invest in transit infrastructure to attract new businesses and create jobs. Empower the Promise Zone Director and Advisory Board to eliminate wasteful and duplicative government programs.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (West Philadelphia) – Put people back to work through skills training and adult education, small business development classes, and loans and technical support for small businesses. Develop a supermarket that will provide access to healthy food and create jobs.

Partner with Drexel University and the William Penn Foundation to prepare children for careers. Prevent and reduce crime to attract investments and new residents.

Southeastern Kentucky (Kentucky Highlands) – Implement sustainable economic effort involving eight counties in the Kentucky Highlands region. Create jobs and grow small businesses within the Promise Zone using a revolving loan fund created with the help of $1.3 million in private sector funding.

The University of Kentucky Economic Development Initiative, the East Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, and the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation will provide leadership and entrepreneur training for youth, and also retraining for the local workforce in specific industries.

Eastern Kentucky University will expand technical education programs in the Promise Zone, while Berea College will provide high school students with evidence-based college and career readiness programs.

Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma – Provide workforce training for skilled trades and professionals with a focus on STEM certifications through partnerships with Oklahoma State University, Eastern Oklahoma State College, and the Kiamichi Technology Center.

Make infrastructure Investments including for water and sewerage systems, and pursue economic diversification. Support women-owned businesses in the Promise Zone, and implementation of large-scale greenhouses and technology-enhanced farming and ranching.

The remaining 15 Promise Zones around the country will be announced over the next three years.

Find out more about the Promise Zone Initiative at

Los Angeles 2020 Commission Report

The Los Angeles 2020 Commission has released a report about the current state and issues being faced by Los Angeles, California.

Los Angeles 2020 Commission Report

Los Angeles 2020 Commission Report

The independent commission was constituted in April 2013 at the request of Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson.

The report they released, titled “A Time for Truth,” is the first of two reports the Commission will produce. The second one will cover the Commission’s recommendations and ideas.

This first 50-page report looks at the challenges and pressing issues Los Angeles needs to face up to.

Specific issues cited by the 13-member commission chaired by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor include weak job creation, poor economic development, lack of industry, traffic, a declining school system, poverty, deficits and budget cuts.

About economic development, the report says – “We lack a coherent or coordinated approach to economic development and soliciting investment in Los Angeles. In fact, we do an abysmal job of identifying and servicing the legitimate needs of the employers already located here. According to a recent survey, 9% of businesses in LA are planning to leave, citing stifling regulations and an unresponsive bureaucracy.”

The report also says Los Angeles has missed out on opportunities. They cite New York taking a leadership role in bioscience with projects such as the Cornell NYC Tech university campus. The report says Los Angeles has no similar project to take advantage of the world-class minds in the region.

The report says the City is hindering private efforts. They cite the three years it took for City Hall to greenlight a $1 billion private investment by USC, which was seeking approval for adding academic buildings, retail space and student housing, in the process creating thousands of jobs.

Other highlights from the report:-

– Among the seven major metropolitan areas, Los Angeles is the only one showing a net decline in non-farm employment over the last decade;

– Los Angeles had 12 Fortune 500 headquarters three decades ago. Now that number has come down to four.

– Los Angeles is dramatically underinvesting in the modernization of its greatest assets including Los Angeles International Airport and the Port of Los Angeles.

– City revenue has been flat since 2009, with a forecast for a one percent revenue growth in 2014. Meanwhile, expenses will grow by more than five percent.

– The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) spends $7.1 billion to educate around 640,000 students, but less than 60 percent of LAUSD students graduated from high school. Only 32 out of 100 students who enter ninth grade will fulfill the course requirements to enter the UC or Cal State systems.

Read the full Los Angeles 2020 Commission Report – Download (pdf)

New Zealand Lands Avatar Sequels With Enhanced Film Incentives

The Government of New Zealand has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Lightstorm Entertainment Inc and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation for the filming of three Avatar sequels.

Avatar sequels announcement in NZ

Avatar sequels announcement in NZ (photo – Wellington Mayor)

New Zealand Minister for Economic Development Steven Joyce and Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Christopher Finlayson signed the MOU on behalf of the government with Avatar Director James Cameron and Jon Landau.

The combined production spending on the three sequels is expected to reach at least NZ$500 million (US $413 million), including live action shooting and visual effects.

The NZ government recently hiked the screen production incentives it offers for international productions from 15 to 20 percent. For Avatar, the government is willing to add another five percent and make it 25 percent of the Qualifying New Zealand Production Expenditure (QNZPE).

As per the MoU, this additional five percent will be provided to Lightstorm and 20th Century Fox only if they undertake activities that bring significant economic benefits for New Zealand.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said the Avatar sequels will provide hundreds of jobs and thousands of hours of work for the screen sector and for jobs right across the economy. Around 90 per cent of live-action crew jobs are likely to be filled by New Zealanders.

The film production work will be based out of Wellington, where the announcement was made. Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said this was an early Christmas present for the creative communities in Wellington and New Zealand.

Apart from the direct economic impact of half a billion dollars, the Mayor said the wider effects would be substantial. She added that the films define New Zealand as a good place to visit and great people to do business with.

The first Avatar movie generated around NZ$100 million in spending for Wellington and more than NZ$307 for the New Zealand economy. Spillover effects such as the establishment of the Matakina 3D breast cancer detection imaging technology have been attributed to the development work at Weta Digital, the Wellington-based special effects company which handled the work for Avatar.

The three Avatar sequels are scheduled for back-to-back Christmas releases from Dec 2016-18.

Media reports in 2011 had indicated that the Avatar sequels may be produced in the United States instead of New Zealand, and anticipated the creation of more than 700 jobs. The Santa Monica, California-based Lightstorm Entertainment even established a new studio in Manhattan Beach, CA that would have been useful for producing the Avatar sequels.

Restarting Local Economies Act Seeks Federal Funding For CA Redevelopment

Back in 2011, California shut down around 400 of its redevelopment agencies (RDAs) by legislating them out of existence. Now a California Congressman is trying to revive all their unfinished projects by asking the federal government to fund California’s redevelopment.

Rep. Eric Swalwell in Fremont, CA announcing Restarting Local Economies Act

Rep. Eric Swalwell in Fremont, CA announcing Restarting Local Economies Act (photo – Rep. Eric Swalwell)

Representative Eric Swalwell (CA-15) has introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives called the Restarting Local Economies Act of 2013.

The bill (H.R.3518) seeks to amend the Public Works and Economic Development Act of 1965 to change eligibility criteria for the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Economic Adjustment Assistance program.

The grants provided under this program are meant to enhance a distressed community’s ability to compete economically by stimulating private investment in targeted areas.

The program currently offers competitive grants to distressed communities experiencing adverse economic changes, with the EDA determining whether a community merits assistance based on specific criteria.

Swalwell’s bill seeks to include closure of local government economic development entities that left behind unfulfilled obligations among the valid criteria that qualifies a community as having an economy facing challenges.

Furthermore, the bill authorizes increased federal funding of up to 100 percent of the project cost for redevelopment activities in cities that have been hurt by RDA closures.

Swalwell announced the bill in a vacant lot in Fremont, CA. The vacant lot was slated to be a mixed-use development, but the project was postponed with the closure of the Fremont RDA.

He was accompanied by East Bay Economic Development Alliance Director Darien Louie, Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison, and Union City Mayor Carol Dutra-Vernaci.

Swalwell said the closure of economic development agencies has effectively stalled local economic development in the East Bay. He said with the funding having been taken away by the State, too much land remains undeveloped and potential jobs are sitting on the sidelines.

Swalwell added that he can’t undo the California Legislature’s mistake, but cities whose redevelopment funding has been raided will be helped by his legislation because it makes it easier for them to obtain federal grants for redevelopment projects.

Mayor Harrison said redevelopment was the best tool for a city such as Fremont for creating economic development, building affordable housing and putting people to work. He said the loss of redevelopment hurts the city now and in future, and anything that can be done to replace redevelopment should be considered by Congress.

USPTO Selects San Jose City Hall For Silicon Valley Office

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced that it will locate a new permanent Silicon Valley satellite office in the San Jose City Hall building.

City of San Jose - Capital of Silicon Valley

City of San Jose – Capital of Silicon Valley (photo –

Last year in July, the Washington, D.C.-based USPTO opened a new satellite office in Detroit, Michigan, and  announced that it would be opening three more satellite offices in Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; and Silicon Valley, California.

The permanent locations for the offices in Dallas and Denver have already been identified. The Denver office is scheduled to open in July 2014.

However, the site selection process for office space within Silicon Valley was put on hold in July 2013 because of sequestration.

The USPTO has been operating out of a temporary space in Menlo Park, CA since April 2013. Apart from Silicon Valley Office Director Michelle Lee, there are nine PTAB judges working out of this location that was secured for USPTO by the GSA.

The USPTO said that they are now be able to move forward with taking up permanent office space in Silicon Valley by the end of 2014, aided by the generous support and assistance of the City of San Jose, the members of the California congressional delegation, and the California State Assembly’s Speaker’s Office.

The City of San Jose pitched in with 40,000 square feet of permanent space in City Hall. The space is being provided rent free for the first two years, followed by another three years of discounted rent.

The California State Assembly’s Speaker’s Office offered the USPTO $500,000 to continue their education and outreach efforts while building momentum towards opening a permanent office.

Lee said the entire Silicon Valley community, including entrepreneurs, business leaders and individual inventors, as well as local, state and congressional leaders, had been tremendously supportive of the USPTO’s Silicon Valley office from the start.

Once the USPTO moves into their new permanent office space in San Jose City Hall, the staffing levels in the first year of operation will increase to around 80 high-paying jobs, including 20 PTAB judges and 60 patent examiners.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said he’d like to thank the Commerce department for choosing San Jose, the Capital of Silicon Valley, as the permanent home of the USPTO’s satellite office.

UCLA’s Grand Challenge Project – A 100% Sustainable Los Angeles by 2050

UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) unveiled an ambitious plan to achieve complete sustainability by using only renewable energy and local water for the Greater Los Angeles area by 2050.

UCLA Grand Challenge Project - Sustainable Los Angeles

UCLA Grand Challenge Project – Sustainable Los Angeles (photo –

The $150 million research project, titled “Thriving in a Hotter Los Angeles,” is the first of the UCLA Grand Challenge initiative’s six planned projects.

For this first project, UCLA is putting together a team of around 70 faculty and staff members from about 30 UCLA centers and nearly two dozen of its departments.

The team will include experts in diverse fields including urban planning, economics, law, public policy, transportation, environmental science, public health, engineering, environmental science, communication studies and conservation biology.

The $150 million they plan to raise will be used for research on new policies and technologies over the next five years. Their goal is to provide decision-makers with a detailed roadmap by 2019.

This plan will be backed by the research, new technologies and breakthroughs, and will include laws, policies, outreach programs and other recommendations on how to achieve complete sustainability by mid-century.

Many of the recommendations, policies and technologies will first be tried out on the UCLA campus. Highlighted below are some of the goals of the project:-

– Smart electric grid that works with renewable energy systems and smart metering to enable buildings and cars to send energy back into the system;

– Carbon-free public transit and transportation systems;

– Solar energy on every rooftop;

– Decentralized system for water treatment and supply; and

– Developing environment-friendly technologies for ocean water desalination.

Federal support for the project seems likely, considering that Cristin Dorgelo, assistant director for Grand Challenges at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), was present at the launch event at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

Dorgelo, who is a UCLA alumna, said this was not just going to be a local effort. She said it can cross outside of UCLA, and the breakthroughs achieved can have an impact on the world’s sustainability-related decisions.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said the perilous effects of climate change are already here. Chancellor Block added that they will light the path for the rest of the world by making Los Angeles environmentally sustainable.

On a related note, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and the Environmental Defense Fund released a set of maps last week called “Los Angeles Solar and Efficiency Report (LASER): Atlas of Investment Potential for LA County.”

LASER shows that if merely five percent of the rooftop solar energy generating potential in LA County is realized, it will create 28,700 local jobs and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.25 million tons – equivalent to removing 250,000 cars off the roads.

That’s the impact of just five percent of the potential solar capacity of LA County. The UCLA Grand Challenge project is aiming to put solar energy on every rooftop in Greater Los Angeles.

Economic Advisors Summit Discusses Advanced Manufacturing and I-Hubs

More than 90 state commerce directors and economic development advisors from 33 states are in Chicago, Illinois for the National Governors Association sponsored ‘Economic Advisors’ Summit (Nov 14-15, 2013).

California Innovation Hubs (i-Hubs)

California Innovation Hubs (photo –

The summit, known as the Economic Policy Advisors Institute, is the only meeting of its kind meant for governors’ top advisors to network, share and learn from experts who follow economic development trends across the states.

This year, the summit under the theme of “States and Innovation: What Works for Accelerating Job Creation” was focused on sessions about best practices for building innovation hubs and new opportunities in advanced manufacturing.

The highlight on Day 1 was the session on innovation hubs. Case studies were presented in breakout sessions by California, Arizona and Washington.

Arizona’s presentation was made by David Krietor, CEO, Downtown Phoenix, Inc. Washington’s presentation was made by Steven VanAusdle, President, Walla Walla Community College.

California‚Äôs presentation was made by Louis Stewart, deputy director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (Go-Biz).

Stewart’s presentation was about California’s advanced manufacturing industry and about AB 250, which was recently signed by Gov. Brown and authorizes establishment of the nation’s largest network of state-sponsored Innovation Hubs.

Go-Biz’s Louis Stewart said that California with more than $230 billion in annual economic output is without question the national leader in manufacturing. Stewart noted that the state took bold action this year by convening the California Advanced Manufacturing Summit, and also enacting exemptions on sales and use tax for manufacturing equipment.

The highlight of the second day’s agenda at the summit was the morning session on “Responding to New Opportunities in Advanced Manufacturing.”

The session included a discussion of MIT’s Production in the Innovation Economy study by Suzanne Berger, professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There was also a panel discussion about the vision for the National Network of Manufacturing Institutes (NNMI) and other efforts states are taking to strengthen advanced manufacturing.

This summit was convened in partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Program, and the State Science and Technology Institute (SSTI).

Google, KKR Make Joint Investment in CA, AZ Solar Facilities

Google and global investment firm KKR announced that they are making an investment in six solar photovoltaic (PV) facilities currently under development by Recurrent Energy in California and Arizona.

Victor Phelan solar project in San Bernardino, CA

Victor Phelan solar project in San Bernardino, CA (photo – Google)

The six facilities (five in Southern California and one in Arizona) together will have a renewable power production capacity of around 106MW.

The six-project portfolio is expected to be operational early next year, and will generate enough electricity to power more than 17,000 homes in the U.S.

The power generated will be sold through long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) to utilities and municipal offloaders including Southern California Edison.

This is Google’s 14th such investment in renewable energy projects. This time, Google is investing $80 million. Together with the earlier investments, Google’s total outlay on all 14 projects adds up to more than a billion dollars.

Kojo Ako-Asare, Head of Corporate Finance for Google, said that investing in renewable energy is at the core of Google’s values. He said that Google strongly believes in making investments that are good for both the environment and for business.

This is the second time that Google, KKR and Recurrent Energy have come together on solar projects. Back in 2011, Google similarly teamed up with KKR and invested $94 million in four of Recurrent’s solar developments.

Kojo Ako-Asare added that Google was proud to continue their partnership with KKR and Recurrent through investments in these fantastic solar facilities.

Ravi Gupta, a senior member of KKR’s Energy and Infrastructure division, said the partnership with Google and Recurrent was ultimately about growing clean energy resources in North America.

Gupta said they believe that as states such as Arizona and California adopt high standards for use of renewable energy, private capital partners can play important roles in helping these states meet their goals.

Arno Harris, CEO of Recurrent Energy, said Google and KKR’s continued partnership with Recurrent showcases the strong commitment they have towards a clean energy future.

Harris added that the leadership of these companies in clean energy investments further validates the integral role of solar in the energy economy.

Recurrent has a large portfolio of utility-scale solar facilities to provide competitive clean energy. The company currently has solar projects under development in North America that together have a renewable energy production capacity of more than 2 GW.

UN Climate Change Conference COP19 – World Ready For Climate Change Deal

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (Nov 11-22, 2013) kicked off in Warsaw, Poland with an enhanced sense of urgency in the shadow of Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation in the Philippines.

Christiana Figueres opening address at COP19

Christiana Figueres opening address at COP19 (photo – UNFCCC/Jan Golinski)

In her opening address, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told the 19th session (COP19) participants from 195 nations that “the world is ready” for a climate change deal.

Figueres said there is a groundswell of climate action, not just for environmental reasons, but also for energy, economic, security and governance reasons. Figueres noted that public support and political will now favor climate change action.

One of the main issues that will take center stage in the negotiations over the next 10 days is the way forward on the establishment of the $100 billion Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The GCF is one of the key components of the international climate change agreement. Developed countries have agreed to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 to fund efforts made by developing countries to tackle climate change.

The framework for the fund is almost done, and the pledging process is scheduled to begin in Sept 2014.

Another key point of discussion will be about laying the groundwork for the international climate action agreement that UNFCCC participants agreed to establish by 2015 when they met a couple of years ago in Durban, South Africa. This agreement is now scheduled to be put in place at COP21 in Paris in 2015.

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd D. Stern explained what the United States is doing, and what they hope to achieve from the climate change negotiations at COP19.

Stern said the U.S. has or will provide $2.7 billion in public climate finance for Fiscal Year 2013 in support of climate change mitigation and adaptation actions in developing countries.

Apart from the UNFCCC negotiations, there are a significant number of high-profile events being held in Warsaw timed to coincide with COP19.

The U.S. Center, a State Dept. initiative, has put together a packed program schedule at Warsaw involving various federal agencies and departments including NASA, NOAA, DOE, DOT, DOS, USDA, USAID and others to highlight their climate change programs.

In fact, the U.S. Center also has one event in its lineup sponsored by the California Governor’s Office. The session on “Local Leadership Creating Resilient Communities” will focus on how significant progress is being made on resilience through the State of California’s emerging collaboratives at the regional level, and through local government leadership.

This session will highlight work being done on climate change throughout the U.S., and explain options that can be translated as a platform for communities worldwide.

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