The reason for my optimism is Pittsburgh. When the Allegheny Conference started pushing the region as an energy hub, I took notice. Pittsburgh is well linked to DC and I could imagine how the back room deal went down. Today, I read confirmation of Pittsburgh's pull:
PITTSBURGH, June 15 -- /PRNewswire/ -- Westinghouse Electric Company will be the key organization spearheading industrial applications for one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Innovation Hubs. As part of a broad effort to spur innovation and achieve clean energy breakthroughs, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman recently announced selection of a team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for an award of up to $122 million over five years to establish and operate a new Modeling and Simulation for Nuclear Reactors Innovation Hub. ...... In addition to ORNL and Westinghouse, the CASL team includes the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Idaho National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, Sandia National Laboratories, Tennessee Valley Authority and University of Michigan.
I'm unclear as to the location of the hub, but suspect that Oak Ridge will serve as the main site. The initiative is more of a research network, all listed actors getting a piece of the funding pie. While politically palatable, the geography may more reflect the flows of innovation in the nuclear industry.
Drive 45-minutes west on the PA Turnpike from Westinghouse's headquarters in Cranberry, PA and you will arrive at the center of the TechBelt. From that vantage point, you could see another research network more concentrated in a contiguous geography. The wealth of energy and manufacturing know-how is impressive. Again, the Pittsburgh-DC link should provide a considerable advantage in the application competition. My only concern is that Pittsburgh already received some love via the nuclear hub.
There is a big difference between the two innovation network geographies. The nuclear hub is national in scope. There's no proximity advantage. The same would be true for a knowledge network in the Great Lakes megaregion. It could just as easily be global. On the other hand, the TechBelt could leverage some spillover benefits. The entire corridor is part of the Greater Youngstown commuter-shed.
The contention that high-speed rail could offer something similar on a megaregional scale isn't grounded in reality. However, we could connect various innovation urban corridors. The TechBelt is the future for economic geography, not Chi-Pitts or GLEI.