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Focus on Sustainability: VerdeXchange Conference
Original Airdate: 2013-09-24

The inaugural VerdeXchange Conference, which seeks to connect businesses with sustainability projects, will be held at Arizona State University’s SkySong Innovation Center October 7 and 8. The conference will feature numerous panels, speakers and hundreds of attendees, all aimed at helping regional and international business leaders tap into sustainability and infrastructure projects. Arizona organizers of the event, Doug Bruhnke of Growth Nation and Maryanne Weiss of Gustare Ltd., will discuss the conference.
 
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Ted Simons: Tonight on our focus on sustainability we look at a local conference designed to help businesses all over the world connect with sustainability efforts. It's the inaugural VerdeXchange conference and it's aimed at helping regional and national business leaders tap into sustainability and infrastructure projects. Joining us now are the Arizona organizers of the event, Doug Bruhnke of the Growth Nation and Global Chamber and Maryanne Weiss of Gustare Limited. Thank you for joining us.

Doug Bruhnke: Thank you.
Maryanne Weiss: Happy to be here.

Ted Simons: Give me a better definition of the conference. What’s going on?

Doug Bruhnke: It's getting people and business owners involved with the building of Arizona. Sustainability sometimes means green and we get a particular image around what that means. When we think about it in a broader context it's really how do we survive as a city, as a state, not just survive but thrive.

Ted Simons: In terms of thriving, it's what, connecting bricks and mortar business with the sustainability and infrastructure idea? What’s happening here?

Maryanne Weiss: What's happening is that we're building better lives with it. We're taking all the sustainability issues that most people understand whether it's lower fossil fuels or better water, and tying it to the fact that we can create jobs with that. We can grow our infrastructure using all those basic principles, tying all of that together.

Ted Simons: If we can, why haven't we done a better job of it?

Maryanne Weiss: I think for us it's all new and we are now defining all of the pieces and we're learning now how to put them all together. We have many conferences out there and we have them on solar and transportation and we'll have them on manufacturing. In this particular instance, Doug and I came up with this idea of putting them all in one place at one time. Started in L.A.

Doug Bruhnke: Started in L.A. I learned about it through my friends in the Japanese consulate and the Korean consulate, so very international. They actually do the reception in L.A. We have put a lot of very strong international component into this. I thought it was amazing, a great way for the normal business owner to be able to connect to government leaders, business leaders, people building the infrastructure. The fellow who runs it, David Abel, in Los Angeles, I tried to follow up with him after the conference a couple years ago and he I think ignored me, probably thought I was another guy from Arizona. Lo and behold Maryanne earlier this year said, Doug, all the sustainability and international work you should know about VerdeXchange. I said I know about it, I think it’s amazing. I wish we could do one in Arizona but he won't listen to me. Maryanne said, I think I have that problem solved. The organizer David Abel is my cousin.

Maryanne Weiss: Doug and I have worked together for years. We're natural partners to do this so here we are.

Ted Simons: Let's say I'm the owner of Ted's Acme builders here. I'm hearing about this G=green economy. I want to be part of it. I can see growth, I can see a good thing for Ted's Acme builders. Where do I go? What do I do? What am I looking for, how do I get it?

Maryanne Weiss: Oh, wow, if you come to VerdeXchange on the 8th and you hear these 75 speakers, each and every one of them, you'll have a thought leader who will give you a layout of what's happening in Arizona over the next five or ten years but every one of those speakers is going to talk about a couple of projects. They actually have them in the pipeline. It's going to be in writing with contact information. You're going to be able to take that home with you, you’re going to know where those projects are and how you can take your business and get involved and go to work with it. If you don't have that contact, you just ask Doug or Maryanne and we'll make it for you.

Ted Simons: Again, so I show up for the conference, I’m saying I make widgets. I would like to get involved in the green economy, there will be ways to figure that out, there will be conferences, seminars, classes, whatever the case may be?

Doug Bruhnke:It's a full day concentration about everything Arizona being built here. Transportation, water, the export economy. Arizona is the metro area for Phoenix is number 30 in the country for exports, which is really bad. If we were like Salt Lake City which has one-fourth of our population it has 50 percent more exports. If we had what Salt Lake City had from an international exporting component, we would have nearly 200 thousand more high-paying jobs here. So companies, there's certainly that being built in Arizona. When a company comes in they are meeting the people building that economy here in Arizona. What a great place for them to connect their business into.

Ted Simons: Give me a better definition of green economy.

Maryanne Weiss: A green economy is one for us that flows and grows, that is healthy, thriving, and also builds positive dollars that puts them in the pockets of the families to pay their bills, educate their children.

Ted Simons: How do you see a green economy?

Doug Bruhnke: It's strategic. I mentioned exports. We need to do more exports because we need to create wealth. We need surface transportation. Many times I have heard politicians say, Arizonans don't use transportation. I heard the same thing in Utah before the Olympics. Nobody will ever use the train. Young people use trains. They have an urban environment feel. If we want young people here that are talented, that are technology oriented, that build our industries for the future we have to stop thinking about what we want and think about attracting people and an urban life-style including transportation, surface rail, is going to be vital for them.

Ted Simons: With the conference and all the things that are focused on here, in general what do you see as a challenge, the biggest challenge, some of the challenges with a green economy and getting Arizona to the place where people think of Arizona they go, and that's a good place to do business, a good green economic area.

Maryanne Weiss: We go through this and as we begin to develop this and people begin to see it in its broad, broad scope, I think that's going to be our first shot. The second thing is that we are involving our young people. We're doing it strategically and specifically. We have got student ambassadors. We have involved some of the universities because they are our future. As we develop and involve those young people who we want to stay here, we don't want them to leave, that I think is also going to be a piece that's going to make the change. I think that we will begin to see as we grow this next year, the year after that, that you'll be able to see the flow. This is going to be able to be something that we're going to be able to look at the bottom line with.

Ted Simons: We talk about challenges and opportunities. Are there more challenges than opportunities or vice versa?

Doug Bruhnke: I would say, I have been in Arizona for years, I'm from New York, I have lived in six states and two countries. I have never been more optimistic about Arizona. I think about a fellow and I started a concept five years ago of getting different groups to collaborate. It was kind of a foreign concept. Now you have Steve Zylstra of the Tech council, Glen Hamer of the Arizona Chamber, you’ve got leaders in a variety of organizations. You have business leaders hopefully that will tie into this. We have people who want to work together. We realize how important it is. I think much more than it has been in the past there's a spirit of working together. A lot of capable people here.

Ted Simons: Details of the conference. Where and when?

Maryanne Weiss: At the ASU Innovation Center on October 8th. It's from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Ted Simons: Is that SkySong Innovation Center?

Maryanne Weiss: That's SkySong.

Ted Simons: Last question for you. How will you know—tangible result—how will you know this whole conference was a success?

Doug Bruhnke:Maryanne mentioned about the projects. We're seeing these 75 speakers. We have asked each of them to give us two projects we should all know about. The list of that and as we read them right now that we're going to hand out in this event is amazing. What we want out of this, the first year it's getting that information out and getting people tied in. How we measure the success of the second year we're seeing a lot of interest. We're very excited about how the community has embraced this. We'll have to see how it goes. We're very optimistic.

Maryanne Weiss: The cities are thrilled.

Doug Bruhnke: The cities work Maryanne has done, 16 cities are coming with their mayors. Very impressive.

Ted Simons: It sounds very impressive, and good luck to you. We'll see what happens after the conference is over.

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