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Wanted: Jobs, infrastructure, equity

Everyone wants greener cities and good jobs. But not everyone has access.

As the Trump administration touted “workforce development week,” we saw a compelling reminder in a New York Times op-ed from PolicyLink’s Angela Glover Blackwell that efforts to address infrastructure and workforce development will fall flat without a focus on equity. Citing a joint report from Ecotrust and PolicyLink, Ms. Blackwell makes the case for infrastructure investments that not only create jobs, but build environmental and community benefit. We couldn’t agree more.

 

illustration of the economic impact of social enterprise
For every dollar spent on a project like the ones conducted by Verde, nearly two are returned to the economy.

In our report with PolicyLink, we profiled examples from around the country in which  green infrastructure investments and workforce development could be focused on equity to provide greater economic impact. In fact, our analysis of a Portland-based social enterprise, Verde Landscape, found that for each dollar invested in their work, nearly two are returned to the greater local economy.

But this is not the kind of job creation and infrastructure strategy that the Trump administration seems to be pursuing. While a White House memorandum shared with lawmakers this week lists the lack of women and minorities in STEM fields as a primary problem in national workforce development, the budget recently put forward by the president sets about defunding programs that would support women, rural, and minority workers.

And as city governments all over the country are increasing their investments in green infrastructure —street trees, rain gardens, bioswales, planters, green roofs, parkland, and restored open space that improve residents’ health and quality of life— the benefits of even those investments remain inequitably distributed.

As noted in Ms. Blackwell’s column, communities suffering from lack of infrastructure are also those most likely to experience the most severe joblessness. No surprise here, they are also most often low-income and communities of color.

At Ecotrust, we have been looking at ways to build smarter infrastructure and generate jobs for people who need them most, two key components of building thriving communities and economies across our region.

Coming out of this year’s research, Ecotrust is partnering with Portland’s ReBuilding Center, Self Enhancement Inc. (SEI), and The Blueprint Foundation to create a Green Workforce Collaborative with the goal of increasing job opportunities and career pathways in environmental sectors for young adults from black and Native American communities.

The project aims to solve for high chronic unemployment rates and inequitable access to living-wage employment in high-growth industries, including environmental fields, by training marginalized young people and connecting them directly with employers in those fields, who need workers and are seeking to diversify their teams. Currently, workforce development efforts underway in Portland do not specifically target these communities for recruitment, and employers remain ill-equipped to focus on equity in their hiring and operations. At the same time, the Portland metro region is experiencing tremendous growth, and there is significant demand for new infrastructure that minimizes environmental impacts and ensures climate resilience now and into the future.

Together, we are exploring opportunities to provide workforce training, pre-apprenticeship, and complementary education and support services. Our hope is that by sharing on-the-ground success stories, building strong partnerships and working coalitions, and convening local leaders, we’ll rebuild inclusive workforce opportunities and infrastructure development from the ground up.