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Entrepreneurs in unexpected places: How one Midwest city promotes diverse local innovation

MD Staff

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In September of 2017, thousands of people from around the world congregated in an unlikely place: Wausau, Wisconsin.

This diverse crowd was gathered for the first International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival. While many may be surprised that such an event would be held in the middle of Wisconsin’s rolling hills and scenic lakes, it is locally a $50 million industry with a long history. In the mid-1970s Hmong immigrants, primarily from Vietnam, brought their entrepreneurial skills and revitalized the local ginseng industry. Welcomed by a friendly community that continues to foster an entrepreneurial spirit, Hsu’s Ginseng, now under the leadership of the original founder’s son Will Hsu, has grown to be the largest integrated ginseng growing and retailing operation in the U.S. Wausau’s industrious self-starters and newcomers grew a multimillion-dollar industry, and the region continues to incubate entrepreneurs across a diverse array of business sectors.

Local innovation

Wausau, ranked recently by ZipRecruiter as a Top 10 Job Market for 2018, has a track record of successful public-private development partnerships and hosts a thriving incubator — the Wausau Entrepreneurial and Education Center — to help local entrepreneurs get started and help established businesses grow. For instance, Wausau-based Resilient Technologies, now a business of Bridgestone Americas, was approached by the U.S. government to develop puncture-resistant tires. In an effort to make military vehicles more safe, they used strong local manufacturing ties to develop a first-of-its-kind non-pneumatic tire in Wausau’s incubator. Bridgestone is now looking for ways to apply the technology to its consumer and commercial portfolio, and develop next-generation tires that offer extended mobility.

“A lot of people don’t know these types of projects are happening here, but the city of Wausau is a great partner and the city provides our team with a wonderful place to call home,” says Louis Stark, operations manager, Resilient Technologies, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations.

The availability of an experienced workforce that can develop these specialized tires for the U.S. military is the same workforce that has made an impact on other areas of Wausau’s economy.

Entrepreneurial workforce

Sometimes entrepreneurial opportunities spring from unusual skills. Some residents in Wausau have deep connections to artistic traditions, including sewing. Bob Jacquart, chief executive officer of Stormy Kromer, makers of iconic hats and rugged outerwear, says he now relies on the sewing skills of Wausau’s residents to create one of the Midwest’s most storied brands.

Stormy Kromer’s operations in Wausau have been successful, outpacing production in the company’s headquarters in Ironwood, Michigan.

“I could not have felt more welcome and city leaders could not have been more accommodating in helping Stormy Kromer find a suitable space as well as skilled workers in Wausau,” says Jacquart. “Our business found exactly what it needed and the support from leaders was exceptional.”

Incubating community

The local economic conditions and support environment that allowed these Wausau-based companies to thrive are the very conditions that led Time Magazine to label Wausau a “middle-class paradise” last year.

A combination of affordability, welcoming atmosphere and economic diversity is attracting young people, new industries and incubating unlikely entrepreneurs. Aiming to make the most out of these trends, the city is responding in kind. New growth and development hit record levels in 2017 across diverse sectors of growing businesses in Wausau. The city’s warm attitude toward entrepreneurs and diversity further complement its traditional economic base in metals manufacturing, building materials, insurance, informational technology and health care.

To learn more about how the city of Wausau is attracting entrepreneurs and gaining an international reputation, visit www.wausome.com.

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Beijing joining the ranks of the world’s most liveable cities

MD Staff

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Every year, people all over the world tune in to see which cities make it onto the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) list of the world’s most liveable cities. And every year, a number of surveys look at the best and worst living conditions in the world’s major cities. For the EIU, each city is ranked across 30 factors – from acceptable to intolerable – and across quantitative and qualitative criteria.

The annual report, which measures quality of life, fires up the aspirations of many of the world’s greatest cities. Beijing is one city that is tackling its ranking, and its environment.

But what goes into these rankings and how much do environmental factors really matter to quality of life? And can a city grow in population and at the same time improve the quality of its air, water and public transportation?

Beijing is striving to do just that. The city has climbed four points on the EIU’s list in just a decade and is striding to do better.

What is “liveability”?

Beijing scores well on many of the EIU criteria. It has, low crime, low threat of civil unrest, high quality of private healthcare, consumer goods and services, and good quality of private education.

The city currently scores under 70 (out of 100) in the EIU’s “culture and environment” category.

Beijing is keen to improve its score and is taking steps to improve quality of water provision, quality of public transport, general healthcare indicators, humidity/temperature rating, discomfort of climate to travelers and quality of energy provision.

“Roxana Slavcheva, Head of City Practices at the EIU, explains how these domains are interlated: A dense public transport network cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions,”

Slavcheva cautions that EIU tries to refrain from being too prescriptive in their reports. “We aim to reflect the reality on the ground, and not produce a forecast or recommendations.”

But of course, ambitious cities are looking for signals that will help them develop a roadmap to a highly ranked future. It is no wonder that the city is looking to its scenario planning arm – and the international community – to help it.

Two factors that no doubt affect quality of life, are pollution and air quality. “These are included in the environmental category, as there is a strong correlation between pollution and climate”, says Slavcheva.

Building a pollution-free future

China is indeed ambitious. “Beijing wants to be one of the best livable cities in the world,” says Dr. Kijun Jiang, the head of the Energy Research Institute at the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission.

“Sydney, Vancouver and Vienna have won. And Beijing is asking ‘how do we get to this?’” To answer that, Jiang and his colleagues are busy creating scenarios for that “liveability future”.

On the sidelines of the recent GEO6 conference in Singapore, Jiang explained how Beijing aims to outperform some of the world’s most environmentally ambitious cities. A youthful, energetic scientist, Jiang projects optimism about the energy future of China – and the world.

Jiang started out as a computer science major at university in 1990, crunching national greenhouse gas models for the governmental Energy Research Institute. In 1998, when the Beijing haze had become notorious, he was given a new mission: China’s energy future.

Jiang responded to the challenge by coming up with concrete recommendations based on modeling and data. He and his team analyze air quality, energy consumption and climate change patterns, among other variables.

“We are looking to see what happens in 2030, 2050 and 2100 and giving advice on how to reach the highest ranks.”

Beijing became famous for its Olympics-related clean-up and this may just have been the beginning of a monumental effort to jump on the world’s clean air stage.

It won’t be easy, he acknowledges. “Beijing still has big trouble with air pollution.”

How has the GEO process helped Beijing?

Jiang has been involved in GEO conferences for more than a decade. “I’m very happy to join the GEO process,” he says. “I am looking forward to bring back to the Chinese government what we learn from the global environmental process” and adapt it to what he calls “the Chinese way, the Chinese road”.

Collaborations with processes such as the GEO-6, are also part of a new model of adapting to climate change. “China is releasing and sharing data with scientific entities, to help them make sense of and act on the data. I think there is this realization in China, that it serves them well to see where the problems are.”

How far has Beijing come and how far to go?

This isn’t the first time the city has worked to improve its environment. During the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics the city invested massively in infrastructure and improving air quality. This resulted in improving its rank by four points.

Contrary to popular perception, says Jiang, the Beijing air quality turnaround story did not just begin with the 2008 Olympics. It started eight-years earlier, where the city executed an action plan every six months to reduce pollution.

“Five years ago, China started an action plan on air pollution control. Today if you go to Beijing, it is much better than five years ago, and people are surprised by what we managed to achieve.”

Jiang says at times he has to deliver prescriptive messages to Chinese policymakers. “We tell them, if you want to be the best in the world, you should reach zero emissions by 2050, in air pollution, carbon emissions.”

No doubt, China and Beijing will rise to this challenge!

UN Environment

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Oman : A reality from a world of fantasy

MD Staff

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Oman is one of the most biodiverse-rich countries in Western Asia with its mountain ranges, valleys, plains, cliffs, rocky hills and coastal areas.  It is home to the magnificent green, red turtles, sharks, dolphins, whales, and prey birds such as the Egyptian vulture and the golden eagle.

99 different mammals, including some endangered species such as Arabian tahr, Arabian oryx, Arabian leopard, red fox, deer and rabbits live in the valleys and mountains of Oman. The southern region sees rodents and wolves and animals such as blue-headed lizard, aquatic snakes, Arabian toads, and bats living in the caves.

Every May, the southern coast of the Sultanate witnesses a unique phenomenon: cold, nutrient-rich sea water rushes to the edges of the rocks, providing the perfect breeding conditions for marine life.

Ras Al Hadd, Ras Al Jinz, and the island of Masirah are one of the largest nesting grounds of  Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill turtles in the world and home to 30,000 turtles. Furthermore, the Bar Al-Hikman area boosts 30 square kilometers of coral reefs, making it a fertile ground for diverse marine plants and the shore is home to millions of migratory sea birds.

The rosy lakes in the state of Al-Jarz owe their color to the algae: another natural wonder of Oman.

From the coast to the desert: Advocating for sustainable tourism

Oman has a rich desert landscape ranging from golden sand dunes in the East to rocky desert of Jeddah Al-Harasis in central of Oman and the Rub’ al Khali desert in the far south. These are home to predators such as lynx, sandy foxes, wild sand cats and one of the largest deer species known as Ghazlan Al Reem.

Salalah, the capital of the Dhofar Governorate, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Arabian Peninsula for its beautiful landscape and a wide range of tropical fruits such as bananas, coconut and sugarcane. Behind the plains of the state of Salalah lie the foothills of Mount Qara, covered with frankincense trees that have made Oman famous for producing the best frankincense in the region.

The Sultanate attracts millions of tourists every year. The government is fully engaged in raising awareness about its many wonders and ensuring to safeguard its rich biodiversity. “We must strive to ensure that people visiting our country recognize the importance of the environment and preserve its natural diversity,” said  Mohamed Al Toby, Oman’s Former Undersecretary of the Ministry of Tourism.

Protecting the wildlife, and its natural habitats, and conserving biological diversity in the Sultanate is very important.  It is one of the priorities that the Government has included in its five-year development plan as erosion and depletion of natural environments will result in significant loss and severe put at risk the Sultanate biodiversity.

The locals believe the beauty of nature must be preserved because it is a source of income for the country allowing tourists to discover and enjoy the unique charming nature.

Unique plant diversity

Oman has a rich floral biodiversity. The central and southern regions are among the top 35 regions in the world known for plant diversity. In the north, its flora is similar to Iran, while in the eastern region Hajar Mountains, the landscape is similar to Africa. The Sultanate has approximately 1212 species of plants, of which 87per cent are endemic or semi-endemic.

Over the past 10 years, Oman Botanic Garden has put in place the largest documented database in the Arabian Peninsula. It includes 1407 documented species. A recent study by the University of Edinburgh found that out of the 1407 species, 77 are only found in the Sultanate.

Safeguarding the natural heritage

The Sultanate is the first country in the Gulf to establish a Ministry of the Environment which led to putting in place a comprehensive law to protect the environment.

It is also the first country in the region to establish an award for the preservation of the environment, known as the Sultan Qaboos Prize.

In 2017, the French Newspaper Le Monde named the Sultanate as the best tourist destination and the World Economic Forum ranked it as the fourth safest destinations in the world.

Cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme

UN Environment is working closely with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs to strengthen the link between the environment, social and economic challenges as an integrated approach to sustainable development.

UN Environment endeavors to promote strategic partnerships with local authorities, civil society, academic community, private sector and other stakeholders to:

  • preserve the unique biodiversity of the Sultanate of Oman
  • manage natural resources
  • link environmental, social and economic dimensions to achieve the sustainable development goals.

UN Environment

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DiscoverEU: 15,000 travel passes up for grabs to explore the EU this summer

MD Staff

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Applicants must be 18 years old on 1 July 2018, EU citizens and prepared to travel this summer.

As of tomorrow (12:00 CEST) until 26 June, (12:00 CEST) young people can apply for a ticket giving them the opportunity to discover their continent from July 2018 until the end of October 2018. DiscoverEU will enable them to better understand Europe’s diversity, enjoy its cultural richness, make new friends and get a sense of their European identity.Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics, said: “DiscoverEU offers an excellent opportunity to young people to explore Europe through a personal journey in a way that no book or documentary can. I am confident that this experience will make a positive change – for the young people participating and for the communities they visit. What we are launching tomorrow is an opportunity for 15,000 unforgettable European stories, to be followed by many more later this year and beyond.”

Under this new EU initiative, young people will be able to travel as individuals or as a group of maximum five people. As a general rule they will be travelling by rail. However, to ensurewide access across the continent, participants can, in special cases, use alternative transport modes, such as buses or ferries, or, exceptionally, planes. This will ensure that young people living in remote areas or on islands part of the EU also have a chance to take part. As 2018 is the European Year of Cultural Heritage, those traveling will have the chance to participate in the many events that are being organised all over Europe.

How to apply

Applicants will need to provide their personal data as well as details about the trip they are planning to make. They will also need to complete a 5-question quiz, linked to the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage, EU initiatives targeting young people and the upcoming European Parliament elections. Finally, they will need to answer an additional question on how many young people they think will apply for this initiative. The replies will allow the European Commission to select the applicants. Once this is done, participants need to start travelling between 9 July and 30 September 2018. They can travel for up to 30 days and can visit up to 4 foreign destinations.

Background

With a budget of €12 million in 2018, DiscoverEU is expected to give at least 20,000 young people the opportunity to travel around Europe this year. Every EU Member State has been allocated a number of travel passes, based on the share of its country’s population compared to the overall population of the European Union. The first application round, launched tomorrow, will allow at least 15,000 recipients to explore their continent. A second application round with at least 5,000 tickets will take place in autumn 2018. The European Commission intends to develop the initiative and has therefore included it in its proposal for the next Erasmus programme. If the European Parliament and the Council agree to the proposal, an additional 1.5 million 18 year olds are expected to be able to travel between 2021 and 2027, supported by a budget of €700 million.

DiscoverEU is an EU initiative based on a proposal from the European Parliament, which secured its funding for 2018 through a Preparatory Action. The initiative focuses on young people turning 18, as this marks a major step to adulthood.

The European Commission would like to hear from the young travellers and will encourage them to share their experiences and adventures. That is why, once selected, the participants will be part of the DiscoverEU community and become ambassadors of the initiative. They will be invited to report back on their travel experiences, for example through social media tools like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, or by providing a presentation at their school or their local community.

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