Local view: To catch a glimpse of our future economy, take a look outdoors
As a new generation of economic ideas begins to take shape in Duluth, the importance of investing in and protecting natural spaces -- our streams and waterways, shorefronts and parks -- becomes more and more obvious. Unique assets set our communi...
As a new generation of economic ideas begins to take shape in Duluth, the importance of investing in and protecting natural spaces -- our streams and waterways, shorefronts and parks -- becomes more and more obvious. Unique assets set our community apart and give us a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talent.
Understanding that as a tool for long-term economic development is an important step for our community. But might this idea also lead to immediate job growth? The question becomes particularly important in light of investments planned by the Obama administration to clean up the Great Lakes.
In recent months, more than 120 community leaders have been engaged in a planning process to identify opportunities that exist in tomorrow's economy. The process has focused on creating jobs in our community that provide sustainable employment, jobs that pay living wages and jobs that help move Duluth toward a cleaner, more-vibrant economy. Working groups have been writing action plans in "energy production," "food systems," the "built environment," "transportation systems," and "natural resource protection."
The process's Natural Resource Protection Work Group paid particular attention to the job-growth opportunities associated with reuse, recycling and cleaning up natural amenities important to our community.
There is no doubt that two of our community's greatest assets are Lake Superior and the St. Louis River. They not only provide us an amazingly unique and beautiful place to live but are main drivers of economic prosperity.
Unfortunately, past industrial practices left pollutants in and along the St. Louis River and adjacent tracts of land. This has degraded our beneficial uses of the water and land as well as degraded fish and wildlife habitat.
Cleaning up and restoring the St. Louis River could bring
$300 million to $700 million in economic growth to the Twin Ports region, according to a study by the Brookings Institute. Thinking through how to train and prepare a local work force capable of getting those cleanup jobs was a key part of the Natural Resource Protection Work Group's planning. These are jobs that range in skill level and necessary educational backgrounds, meaning there is potential opportunity for a wide range of people.
As we clean up pollution from the river and adjacent lands we benefit from being able to use these resources again. This leads to increased work for local engineers, architects and construction companies as new land for development becomes available. There also would be an increase in property values, improved recreation opportunity and an overall increase in quality of life. For these reasons, the Natural Resource Protection Work Group spent significant time understanding how to help prioritize our region in the federal processes that will dictate where cleanup money goes.
Shifting from studying how we clean up our damaged natural resources to thinking through how we put less pressure on resources sheds light on a quiet strength for our region: We are in many ways a recycling and reuse hub. More than 30 companies recover everything from paper to sand to oil. Doing more to create sustainable citywide ways to reuse waste could result in new jobs. The Natural Resource Protection Work Group began by identifying key, early action steps in evaluating future opportunities. The work group itself began to bring together the first partners to help take advantage of regional reuse opportunities.
By making a commitment to protect the assets that set us apart -- assets like Lake Superior and the St. Louis River -- and by finding creative ways to reuse waste, we have the potential to create new jobs and new economic development. If this economic growth, done in a sustainable way, is to succeed in leveraging all the opportunity available to us through cleanup efforts and through our own entrepreneurial initiative it will need help. We need continued investment of time and resources by local community leaders and a public engaged in the effort.
Tony Cuneo is co-chairman of the grassroots Green Jobs Planning Process, is director of policy and planning for the A.H. Zeppa Family Foundation, and is a Duluth city councilor. Julene Boe is chairwoman of the Green Jobs Planning Process's Natural Resource Protection Work Group and is executive director of the St. Louis River Alliance.