All eyes are focused on Washington this week as the United States inaugurates a new president, one who has promised to point the country in a different direction. And in welcome proof that this is still an entrepreneurial country, that prospect of change already is reflected in a rush to profit from it.
That is one way a president can lead. Use of the "bully pulpit" begins well before Inauguration Day, and the smart money tries to stay ahead of events.
As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, the fledgling alternative-energy industry is "seeing a boom in investment and sales growth." The field is attracting venture capitalists and lenders, even as the overall economy is cutting back and most industries find credit tight. Companies offering to boost energy efficiency or to provide solar or biofuel energy are hiring and expanding.
In part, that is just the American way. No one is making much money on traditional industries right now, so why not try something new? And in part, it probably reflects the opinion that so-called alternative energy is the way of the future. (We will know it has arrived when we drop the word "alternative.")
But much of this is overtly driven by the belief that the Obama administration will - with both carrots and sticks - push America in the direction of cleaner energy. Whoever gets ahead of the curve can then profit from any subsidies or tax credits to be had, or make money helping others avoid energy-related taxes or penalties.
As one industry observer told the Journal, alternative energy "has been the brightest sector in venture capital of the last year. Everyone is thinking it's going to be a big priority of the incoming administration."
So, while the stock market tanked, investments in clean-technology companies were up 40 percent last year over 2007. That amounted to $8.4 billion - not much compared to $700 billion bailouts, but still a lot of money for start-ups.
It also says something about the incoming administration. President-elect Barack Obama said earlier this month that one goal of his administration would be to double the U.S. production of alternative energy within three years.
People in the industry like to hear such talk because new technologies typically require some kind of government help to take off. That can be direct, as with subsidies or tax credits, or it can be indirect, as when the government effectively supports car makers by building interstate highways.
One charge during the campaign was that Obama is all talk. But that is most of what a president does, except when it works, it is called leadership. With the right words at the right time, a president - or even a president-elect - can signal his intentions and set in motion a trend or a movement.
At some point, the Obama administration will have to come through with the right policies on alternative energy. By then, though, there may also be a growing constituency, not just for clean energy in the abstract, but for the specific strategies the new technology needs to succeed. And at that point, too, the existence of growing private sector interest in alternative energy could be enough to persuade skeptics to get on board.
However it plays out, it would appear some change is already under way.