By Gina Malone
When Chelsea Clinton wanted to do a bit of campaigning and address clean energy earlier this year, she chose The Collider in Asheville because, says CEO James McMahon, “There just isn’t a better place in Asheville. We’re one of the only climate innovation centers in the world.”
The Collider opened in March on the top floor of the downtown Wells Fargo building where spectacular views of the city and the surrounding mountains outside complement state-of-the-art office, co-work and venue spaces inside. Founded by philanthropist Mack Pearsall, the nonprofit, nonpartisan, non-advocacy center seeks to be the place where climate service professionals “collide,” or come together, to collaborate on innovation within the industry.
“Climate problems are often very complex to understand,” says McMahon, “and even more complex to begin solving.” It takes a network of professionals, scientific knowledge, data collections and development of technology. “We bring together all those fields of expertise.”
At the same time, The Collider provides to students and the general public educational programs and presentations, apprenticeships and specialized training.
“We call it ‘from K to Gray,’” McMahon says, “from kindergarten to adult learning.”
The Collider’s location offers proximity to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s (NOAA’s) National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) located just two blocks away. The world’s largest collection of weather, climate and environmental data resides there, dating back to the 1950s when the center was established. “When we realized as a scientific community that the climate was changing in significant ways, NOAA took on a greater role,” McMahon says.
The Collider’s members are attracted to work and event spaces that afford them the opportunity to be near NCEI. Because of NOAA’s long-standing presence in the city, McMahon says, “It turns out that some of the world’s leading climatologists live in Asheville.”
Acclimatise Group Ltd., a London-based company that had its North American office in New York, recently moved its operations to The Collider, where an international network is being formed. Other members include the University of North Carolina–Asheville’s National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center (NEMAC) and the American Association of State Climatologists.
Reaching out and solving climate problems, McMahon says, will mean connecting to people affected by climate change and finding out what their needs are. Businesses, for example, he believes, are making decisions that should be based on climate data, and often are not.
Traditionally, problem solving has worked from the data outwards, he adds. “What will be more successful is working from the outside in and helping businesses and communities. That reaching out is something that is unique and the main focus for The Collider.”
McMahon and his staff have a new nickname for Asheville: “Climate City.” Perhaps Chelsea Clinton knew that when she booked her event here and drew a full house that spilled out of the technology theater into the lobby.
“Asheville has traditionally placed value on environmental awareness and environmental stewardship,” McMahon says. “It’s exciting that Asheville has one of the only climate innovation centers.”
The Collider is located at 1 Haywood Street in Asheville. For more information or to find out about events, call 828.CLIMATE or visit thecollider.org.