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Part 4: Building A Brand New, Local Business

(Credit: Onion Flats)

(Credit: Onion Flats)

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Regional Affairs Council - September 2011

KYW Regional Affairs Council

“Growing A Green Economy”

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia region ranked fifth in a recent national survey of the green economy, with 54,000 jobs tied to clean industries.  Local officials say their goal is to double that amount.

And one local company is really showing the potential for creating green jobs in our area.

(MUSIC EXCERPT:  “Green Green,” by the New Christy Minstrels)

The West Coast may have an edge in solar power, and the Midwest the wind to turn turbines, but the Philadelphia area has its own resource in propelling the green economy.

“A rowhouse is just naturally more energy-efficient,” says Tim McDonald, co-founder of Onion Flats in Kensington.

Onion Flats, which McDonald founded with his brothers and a friend, is literally and figuratively repurposing the remnants of the manufacturing economy for the new, “clean” economy.

Story continues below photo…

onionflats rag Part 4:  Building A Brand New, Local Business

(Credit: Onion Flats)

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They’ve built homes out of a former rag factory (above), a trolley garage, a firehouse, a meatpacking plant, and other decaying buildings, along the way innovating ways to drastically reduce energy use.

mcdonald tim side loeb Part 4:  Building A Brand New, Local Business

(Tim McDonald. Credit: Pat Loeb)

“We’ve found this great way to deliver highly sustainable buildings,” McDonald (right) says.  “And when I say sustainable — I don’t even like that word, it’s too general — we’re interested in net-zero or net-positive-energy buildings.”

The McDonalds are now “scaling up” their process.  They’ve opened Blox, a Pottstown-based factory turning out modular units so that highly efficient housing can be built as cheaply as standard construction, in half the time.

“So the promise is to translate the efficiencies of a manufacturing process into energy efficiency and make that the standard way of building — period,” McDonald adds.

Story continues below photo…

onionflats thin flats Part 4:  Building A Brand New, Local Business

(Credit: Onion Flats)

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The beauty of Blox is that it can’t be moved to China — as solar panel and turbine blade production has.  With concerns such as zoning codes and climate to consider, the modular units have to be assembled on site — so the jobs it creates stay local.

Reported by Pat Loeb, KYW Newsradio 1060

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