Responding to Trump: the new economies of Pittsburgh…and Paris and Paris and Paris

June 4, 2017 |

Last November, Donald J. Trump was elected President by the voters of Paris.

Paris, PA, that is.

It’s a suburb of Pittsburgh, as it happens. Of “I was elected by voters of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” fame.  Where Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto joined the mayors of more than 175 cities in a rebel yell that has been heard nationwide since President Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords last Thursday.

Peduto said: “As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future.” That was the general theme from a list of governors and mayors that Candidate trump would have probably labeled “Uuge”, or at the very least “Big league”.

It turns out that the Paris Agreement is not only about Paris, but Pittsburgh too. Its big-hearted, well-educated people and its vibrant, forward-looking clean economy.

And whole bunch of places around the United States, also named Paris.

Paris, Texas

There’s Paris, Texas with its amazing replica of the Eiffel Tower complete with a giant red cowboy hat on top — on the edge of the heartland of the Texas bioeconomy, which is the Piney Woods and its sandhill pine plantations. What you might have heard described as the Big Thicket. It’s home to the 33,000 acre reserve established by the Conservation Fund, which is developing sustainable tourism for the region. Companies like Enviva have built a substantial inventory of pellet plants in Southeast (acquiring Piney Woods Pellets in 2010) — whose primary customers are in the EU, where the pivot from fossil energy sources to renewable has driven up the popularity of biomass energy, and the demand from Scandinavia is strong.

Paris, Tennessee

Paris, Tennessee — where former fire chief Don Cox was one of the participants in a landmark University of Tennessee-led R&D effort to develop bioeconomy feedstocks on the idle farmlands of Henry County.

And you might be surprised to learn that biggest and fastest-growing industry in the dominant regional hub, which is Nashville, famed home of the country music business — is actually health care. Nashville is home to more than 250 health-care companies.  The region is home to some of the best lake and river fishing in the country, and deer, turkey and small game hunting and you’ll fimd that hunters are staunch conservationists — though I wouldn’t describe them all as environmentalists. People come for affordable homes, scenic attributes, low crime and good schools, and they see much to protect along the Natchez Trace in this quiet pastoral land set amidst rolling hills and heavy forest land – a land that many derive their income from and care deeply about preserving.

Paris, Maine

Let’s mention Paris, Maine, the home of Hannibal Hamlin, vice-president under Abraham Lincoln. Deep in the heart of sawmill country. Where companies like Oxford Timber are developing the bioeconomy — and for the rejuvenation of which Maine’s Republican governor Paul LePage came down to ABLC this year to pitch Maine’s visionary Born Global bioeconomy development program.

Paris, Iowa

What about Paris, Iowa? Not far north of Cedar Rapids where ADM has a massive corn ethanol plant, and perhaps 20 miles from the Big River United Energy ethanol plant in Dyersville.  Paris is right in the heart of the strongest state in the US bioeconomy, which is Iowa — and don’t go knocking down the advanced bioeconomy in that part of the world or talk up how pulling the US away from its pivot towards a clean energy future means anything good for Iowa’s farmers.

Paris, Illinois

Let’s think for a moment about Paris, Illinois. That’s Cargill country through its subsidiary Illinois Cereal Mills. They’re not only invested in the clean and green economy, they are accelerating their investment — and in so many ways they personify the new economy, they are the advanced bioeconomy — there, in the Wabash watershed, and south via US Route 150 from the awesome agricultural research complex of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

Paris, Kentucky

If a horse or basketball pilgrimage brings you to Lexington, Kentucky and the bluegrass country and it should, you might try a stop about 10 miles out of town where you’ll find the small town of Paris, Kentucky — the thoroughbred capital of the world.  I’m hoping that it doesn’t take rocket science to draw a strong connection from thoroughbreds to the bioeconomy. But you’d be surprised how vibrant the manufacturing and logistics business of the New Economy has become in this bioeconomy stalwart region. Amazon is shipping out of here, and so is UPS. But IBM and Lockheed give you a sense of how advanced technology companies see opportunity in this part of the world. Don’t think coal — think peanut butter, the world’s largest factory is in the area.

Paris, Idaho

Up near my own ancestral roots in the Northwest is Paris, Idaho, which you will find home to one of the most impressive tabernacles around — it’s beautiful ranch country in the high valley where Paris sits, and our latest family reunion was held some 15 miles away (mostly) along Route 36 about three years ago, it remains as it has always been, bioeconomy heaven now, and probably forever. It’s not far from the scenery of Highway 26 we recently wrote about in tracking the value of octane and ethanol at high altitude, here.

Paris, Oregon

It would not surprise those most familiar with Oregon to lean that Governor Kate Brown gave a stunning rebuke to President Trump, and said that the state would join the Climate Change Coalition to meet the Paris goals, but spare a thought for the tiny townlet of Paris, Oregon. That’s deep in the heart of the Siuslaw National Forest in the heart of  Lane County (no relation) — a part of the world where the Forest Service roads outnumber the other type of roads, and the whole place looks like a chapter out of Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion (which was filmed not far from here in 1970).

In most of the rest of the world, maybe you’ve never heard of Lane County. But you’ve probably heard of Nike, and its spiritual home is in Eugene (home of the University of Oregon). Oregon is not only home to its own Low Carbon Fuel Standard, it famously embraces sustainability and Nike is at the forefront of that, and a New Economy that lives in harmony with the advanced bioeconomy.

Paris, New York

Paris New York — our family reunion prior to Preston was held about 4 miles from there a few years back, and suffice to say, you wouldn’t mistake it for Oregon. Nearby Utica is town as hard hit by the decline of manufacturing as anyplace in the country — although it was perhaps even harder hit in many ways by the closing of Griffiss Air Force Base than any other single factor. But the region has made an unbelievable effort to re-shape itself and become part of the new economy. Mascoma had a plant there and the technology ultimately acquired by Lallemand went through its R&D paces there. There are a host of companies developing upon the infrastructure — rail, power and communications — that built up around Griffiss. These are New Economy jobs — advanced technologies. These are a hard-working people not afraid of hard work and re-inventing themselves.

Paris in Ohio, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Missouri and Virginia

There’s Paris Ohio, and Paris Wisconsin, and Paris Mississippi, and Paris Missouri (not 30 miles or so east of Hannibal, where Mark Twain’s best-loved works are set). You might know Paris Virginia if you are a Civil War buff and you’ve traveled the Thoroughfare Gap through the Bull Run Mountains.

All of them, small towns, bioeconomy based, engaged with the advanced new economy., None of them looking back with any particular fondness on the prosperous old days of the Fossil economy, since none of them gained much benefit — as did the oil & gas barons that currently hold Washington, DC in their thrall.

I’ve not been in every single Paris in the United States, but I’ve been around enough of them over years of reporting, to have formed an estimation of the general character of their townspeople. They remind me of a quote from Margaret Mitchell, when she was asked about the theme of Gone With the Wind. She wrote,

“If Gone With the Wind has a theme it is that of survival. What makes some people come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong, and brave, go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don’t. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those that go under? I only know that survivors used to call that quality ‘gumption.’ So I wrote about people who had gumption and people who didn’t.”

The Bottom Line

Opportunity isn’t defined or delimited for any of these towns by their opportunities in the old economy, the old manufacturing ecosystem — they don’t want their old jobs back, they want new, good-paying jobs that are sustainable — not just environmentally sustainable but economically sustainable too. No one is going to get much excited about investing in small towns on the basis of one US President escaping the terms of the Paris Climate Accord with the stroke of a pen — as we have seen in the past 3 days, there are too many government pens around in local, state, national and multi-national roles who are going to stroke Paris compliance right back into the equation.

It’s about the future, not the mandate — the mandate is just a toll to ensure that everyone pulls together, everyone does their share. Better together.

It’s Pittsburgh, it’s Paris, it’s us, it’s now.To paraphrase President Kennedy: Fifty years ago, the proudest boast was “Ich bin ein Berliner!” All mankind who believe in the clean economy, they are citizens of Paris, and can take pride in the phrase “Je suis un Parisien.” Or, if you prefer, “Yep, I’m from Paris, too.

That’s a Rebel Yell worth hearing.

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