While the presidential contenders argue about where the jobs of the future will come from, there’s no debate about this: watershed restoration and similar activities throughout Oregon are creating serious employment and economic growth right now. In a new study, Ecotrust has found that restoration projects in the state generated $977.5 million in economic activity and as many as 6,483 jobs between 2001 and 2010.
Much of the activity has come in rural communities that are in the midst of a long-term employment crisis, with measured unemployment rates up to twice the national average. This ongoing employment crisis has undermined local tax bases, leading to the collapse of vital public services and infrastructure. The lack of local opportunities, and the resulting brain and youth drain to urban centers, threatens to unravel the social and cultural fabric that has defined many rural communities for generations.
“Restoration can drive economic development and job creation, particularly in rural communities that have suffered from persistently high unemployment rates,” says Spencer B. Beebe, president and founder of Ecotrust. “And, unlike in many other sectors of our economy, restoration jobs can’t be outsourced to far-off places.”
The investments in restoration have created jobs for construction workers, landscapers, heavy equipment operators, and technical experts such as engineers and wildlife biologists. And the projects also create demand for local businesses, such as plant nurseries, quarries, and others.
Restoring habitat also benefits the economy in the long term. Habitat improvements intended to bolster fish runs promise to increase sport and commercial fishing opportunities in the coming years — already big business in Oregon. So investments in ecosystem restoration can be seen as the first steps in the evolution of a new natural resource economy.
“Habitat restoration jobs pay dividends twice, first in creating good, local jobs immediately, and then, for many decades to come, through increased benefits from fisheries, tourism and resiliency for coastal communities,” said Eric Schwaab, assistant administrator for fisheries for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA provides technical expertise and funding to restore coastal, marine, and migratory fish habitat in Oregon and around the nation.
A recent national study published in Marine Policy analyzing job creation and other economic impacts from NOAA restoration projects found that an average of 17 jobs were created for $1 million invested. That rate of job creation is significantly higher than other industries, including coal, natural gas, or road and bridge construction.
Congressman Earl Blumenhauer, who represents Oregon’s 3rd district and recently introduced HR 6249, the “Water Protection and Reinvestment Act,” a bill that calls for investment in clean water infrastructure across the nation, commented: “For too long, we have treated our rivers and waterways like machines to the detriment of water quality and quantity. Investing in restoration not only improves habitat for fish and wildlife, it creates jobs and bring much needed revenue to local communities. Oregon has tremendous opportunities for restoration that can serve as a model for the rest of the nation.”
A recent University of Oregon report found that an average of 90 cents of every dollar spent on restoration stays in the state, and 80 cents of every dollar spent stays in the county where a project is located. For example, of the nearly $400,000 invested to restore Little Butte Creek in Southern Oregon from 2009–2011, 72 percent was spent in Jackson County, and 97 percent was expended in Oregon. Over half of those dollars went to salaries that directly benefit Oregonians.
Mike Herrick, Owner of Aquatic Contracting said, “Over the last 10 years, restoration projects have allowed us to provide a sustainable living for our employees. They can use their skills in construction and feel good about what they are doing. We have grown from just a couple of employees to as many as 20. Without restoration funding, we would not be able to provide these opportunities and support the local economies where we work.”