First Word Archives

Race to the Bottom

From the Desk of the Editor in Chief Several times a year, Business Facilities strives to tell you who is at the top of the heap in the never-ending competition between locations. In most cases, those who reach the highest get the most attention. This month, we turn that focus upside down. Our cover story identifies the leading low-cost manufacturing centers. When it comes to the cost of doing business, nobody wants to come out on the high end. We want to give special thanks to our friends at KPMG, who gave us an early look at their 2010 Competitive Alternatives analysis, which forms the heart of our cover feature. KPMG’s survey is issued every two years and it is without a doubt the most comprehensive cost analysis undertaken. The scope of the 2010 report requires a deep breath just to recite: KPMG examined 112 cities in 10 countries and compared 26 cost components as they applied to 17 business sectors over a 10-year planning horizon. Some of the results are surprising; all are informative. Mexico continues to be a low-cost leader, primarily due to inexpensive labor; Canada fared well, in part due to currency fluctuations in its favor. Japan got clobbered by the rising yen, and the U.S. slipped a bit because the analysis formula gave greater weight to the largest cities. To come out on top in this heated competition, you have to hit bottom. Congratulations to all of the low-cost manufacturing centers. Keep up—or, rather, down—the good work!

Renewable Recovery

From the Desk of the Editor in Chief The people who make those giant cardboard sunglasses that shield car windshields from the baking summer sun are going to have to find a new line of work soon. The folks in Tucson, AZ have a better idea—they’re covering outdoor parking facilities with solar panels. Futuristic solar arrays are transforming the Arizona landscape and giving Tucson bragging rights as “The Solar City.” Our cover design pays homage to Tucson’s ambitions by imagining a photovoltaic canopy over the entire city, which isn’t as big a stretch as you might think. This month, we herald the arrival of the Age of Alternative Energy. On these pages, we detail the frenzied activity across the country as every state is powering up by capturing sunlight, harnessing the wind and converting wastelands into biofuel. Even before a national goal for electricity from renewable sources has been established, the race to the finish line is well underway. The economic recovery and alternative energy are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. When billions of dollars in stimulus grants were earmarked for alternative energy projects last year, some thought this was a long-term response to a short-term need. Now, it seems, everyone has healthy case of green-power fever. So don’t hesitate to say goodbye to a bitter winter of economic discontent and punch your ticket to The Solar City, where the future’s so bright it’s got its own shades.

Grow Your Own

From the Desk of the Editor in Chief Every year, we take a high-level tour of the most important developments in the burgeoning biotechnology sector. For this year’s round-up, we set our sights a bit lower, because the most exciting activity literally is taking place at ground level. The buzzword is bioenergy, and it seems like everyone is rushing to transform their favorite local staples—and some not-so-favorite pests like algae—into production-scale cellulosic ethanol facilities. Next-generation biofuels have been ripped out of research papers and pilot incubators and ramped up at warp speed. Everything from sorghum to pond scum to the fat your grandma used to skim off her chicken soup is being converted into jet fuel, lubricants, adhesives and even cosmetics and candles. The major oil companies have taken note and are investing heavily in commercial-scale cellulosic biofuel plants, many located near feedstocks that were written off as marshland not suitable for development. The biotech revolution has met the renewable energy revolution head on, and it’s coming soon to a fuel depot near you. Developments are unfolding rapidly. We encourage you to keep a close eye on the Breaking News section of our Web site,, after you digest this month’s cover feature. We invite you to fill up your tank and enjoy the ride. And don’t throw away those lawn clippings this summer. They may come in handy.