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Finding green jobs also good for environment

Marc Lefkowitz  |  08/29/13 @ 11:00am  |  Posted in Clean energy, Clean air, Clean water

A new jobs report out today shows Cleveland leading the nation in unemployment. Sound of Ideas reported that 4,000 new unemployment claims were filed here since the Recession began. So, where will the recovery come from as we learn to pivot from the era of steel mills employing thousands to building a green city on a blue lake?

Moving to work<br />Cities that establish goals for bike infrastructure can make the case with keeping roads safe and creating jobs. Cleveland workers paint Sharrows in University Circle.Growing green<br />Cleveland's Garden Boyz are learning a trade and are part of a burgeoning local food economy.Green on down the road<br />Green infrastructure, like this permeable parking lot at Courtyard Marriott in University Circle, could be a jobs creator.

The NEO Sewer District is investing $44 million in functional stormwater landscapes, and that should be leveraged with a jobs creation strategy, Green For All and Land Studio argue in a recent study, “Seeing Green.” It shows where job sector growth is likeliest to occur. Topping out the wage scale are supervisors and landscapers for rain gardens and bio-cells.

It’s a good idea to follow the lead of sewer districts like Cincinnati's which has a “community benefits” approach to their green infrastructure investments, the report adds. Showing how functional landscapes address unemployment and build place will broaden the base of support and diffuse backlash from raising a stormwater fee. NEO Sewer can sow more good will and impact if it can show cities “in measurable terms, how money spent on green infrastructure addresses several community issues at the same time—like floods, high unemployment, and local business failures. Those successes will resonate with the public.” The take away? GI shouldn’t be left to city water departments. Like Cuyahoga County Department of Developmental Disabilities’ training and job placement for urban farmers, green infrastructure awaits a champion in the workforce training field who would like to put more chronically unemployed people back to work.

Metro Metal Works, a project of the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry which hires unemployed Cleveland residents, hung their shingle out to build bike racks last year. The firm was hired by the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, but is so backlogged, the city says, that it will be awhile before it can complete a rush of orders that are coming in from the city’s bike parking ordinance. Cleveland has required parking lot operators to supply bike parking since 2010. But not until earlier this year when Downtown Cleveland Alliance, GreenCityBlueLake and citizen activist John McGovern prompted the city to act by conducting a survey of compliance in downtown garages has the company seen the uptick. City Planning Director Bob Brown confirms that over one hundred parking garages were sent a firmly worded compliance letter, and have acted by placing orders with Metro Metal Works in the past few months. Here’s hoping MMW hires a few more workers to build bike racks, and that every parking garage in Cleveland has one (or five) in the coming year.

LEEDCo is the organization leading the charge to build a wind farm on Lake Erie, seven miles from the shore of Cleveland. Their push to sign on customers right now (4,500 have pledged to buy power from Lake Erie-based wind turbines) underscores a larger question—how many jobs will the wind farm create? Nortech, the regional economic development group, produced a study in 2010 on the economic impact of creating an industry of freshwater wind power. It predicts 8,000 local jobs will be created from building approximately 500 turbines (or 5,000 megawatts) of renewable power from 2014 until 2030. Initial costs would be higher, in the ballpark of $79.5 million for the pilot 20 MW project, that includes installing three 5.0 MW turbines in Lake Erie and connecting them to the onshore grid. With ongoing operations and maintenance of $2.5 million per year.

With 20,000 vacant lots and a hungry population spending only 1% locally of a total $100 million on food purchases, Cleveland seems ripe to researcher Parwinder Grewal for a serious vacant-to-green strategy. Grewal’s 2011 study asked, “Can cities become self-reliant in food?” Although his results were met with skepticism by some, we think its time to examine the bold vision that would turn 80% of the vacant properties and 9% of existing residential yards in the city in to gardens and urban farms. Grewal, a researcher at OSU Extension, found that about 50% of the veggie, 94% of poultry eggs and 100% of the honey needs of the city’s half a million residents could be met by farming locally. City planners expressed doubt that there were the estimated 10,000 farmers interested today in growing local food at that scale. But the challenge is starting to be met by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga Food Policy Coalition and Cleveland Municipal School Districts’ Farm to School Initiative. The group met last week to initiate a plan that calls for a garden at every school in Cleveland. CMSD’s once-proud horticulture program could once again become a pathway for training the future farmer and this time tackle the scourge of vacant land.

Incubating companies within the green tech sector might help ease some of the supply chain problems at the scale of local food and renewable energy economies. EcoWatch reports on an innovative incubator space in Boston, Greentown Labs, that has garnered Massachusetts’ equivalent of our Third Frontier funds to help start ups ranging from an “airborne” wind turbine to “dirt batteries.” Locally, is there a need for clean tech incubator space? Or does the much-vaunted Launchhouse, which helped Sustainable Cleveland 2019 produce a company, Tunnel Vision Hoops, have the capacity to serve green business start ups if there were more entrepreneurial energy in the sector here?

One answer may be forming on the non-profit side with Great Lakes Biomimicry which is looking at the intersection of business and nature-as-designer. GLBio’s first contribution to the region’s economic development plans came when they connected four Doctoral candidates in bio-based design at University of Akron with Fortune Five companies in the area (each have secured a $100,000 corporate sponsorship for their research).

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