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by Joel Smith & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & here's no end to the mind-bogglingly boring press releases we get at The Inlander from week to week. A youth beauty pageant in the Valley. A cover band on the North Side. The one we got from Connect Northwest seemed no different, at first. The nonprofit group of entrepreneurs and investors wanted us to know about the keynote speaker at next week's installment of its quarterly Emerging Growth and Innovation Series. The group is hosting Mossadiq S. Umedaly, the chairman and former CEO of Xantrex Technology Inc.


Are you asleep yet?


You shouldn't be.


Because beneath the eye-glazing corporate speak of the press release is an issue that you probably spend more time thinking about than you'd care to admit. Perhaps it crosses your mind while sitting in traffic on Interstate 90, watching the workers tear up the road and the needle on your gas gauge steadily plummet?


Alternative energy has been a buzz phrase in the news for the last six months, with the president mentioning switchgrass during his State of the Union address and everyone else buzzing about wind energy and hydrogen cells. The administration's announcement last month that oil prices were up and would likely stay up for the foreseeable future may have earned smart energy use a permanent seat at the discussion table. With energy at a premium, there's money to be made.


That's the focus of Connect Northwest's forum next week. In the six years that its keynote speaker, Umedaly, helmed the power manufacturing company Xantrex, he grew its revenues from $10 million to $143.1 million. Think about that. The so-called "father of energy development" in Vancouver also, according to Connect CEO Bill Kalivas, turned British Columbia into "an energy center of excellence" -- basically, a region that's producing so much energy and doing it so efficiently that people feel compelled to plant their money there.


That's a powerful thought for Kalivas and others, looking at another city and region -- Spokane and the Inland Northwest -- that have been in an economic slump of late. "At the end of the day, if we had a really strong economy here, we could do all kinds of things. Fix the roads, feed more people," he says.


Following Umedaly's 3 pm keynote, the floor will be opened to discussion with a panel of experts invited by Connect Northwest (with help from WSU and SIRTI) to discuss the economic potential of smart, renewable energy use.


"We got a group of experts together who are in the mainstream of the energy market to understand where are they investing their money in energy-generation," says Kalivas. "What are the approaches they're taking? It's not just 'What is Avista saying we should do?' What are the money people doing?"


Knowing where these guys spend their money could be a good indicator of where the Inland Northwest can find some of its own. And that's something everybody cares about.





Connect Northwest's forum on Emerging Growth and Innovation will begin at 3 pm on Wednesday, May 24, at the Davenport Hotel. Tickets: $25. Visit www.connectnw.org or call 358-2110.
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