Post By Todd BenDor

Todd BenDor is an Associate Professor in the UNC Department of City and Regional Planning and affiliate faculty member of the UNC Institute for the Environment. 

Earlier this year I was invited to speak at an event in Raleigh hosted by the North Carolina Coastal Federation.  The “Sound Economic Development Summit” brought together industry leaders, policy-makers, economic developers, scientists, and oyster growers. The focus of the event was to explore current issues and increase collaboration around North Carolina’s growing aquaculture and coastal restoration industries.

The focus of my presentation was how ecological restoration activities are an economic engine in many places, including the coast of North Carolina. The link between environmental restoration and economic development is an area of interest that I’ve been researching for quite some time. Environmental restoration is a key part of the green economy and worth as much as $9.5 billion a year.

Environmental restoration or the “green economy” encompasses a wide variety of activities, including cleaning up contaminated sites, restoring streams and rivers, and improving oyster habitat.

A close look at the industries and small businesses that account for the environmental restoration sector illustrate that this is an area of employment where growth is still underway.  For comparison, the number of jobs in environmental restoration outpace those in other industries, such as steel mills, logging, and coal mining.

It is important to note a couple of factors about environmental restoration jobs; first they are inherently local in nature and secondly they include a strong mix of both white collar technical jobs and blue collar labor jobs.

North Carolina’s efforts to restore the oyster industry include an increase in cultch planting.

Despite the continued economic growth in this area, there is still the need for action by state and local officials to encourage restoration activities. For example, states should ensure that barriers to restoration are removed through a streamlined permitting approach.  Support for workforce development and training classes for environmental restoration jobs also will help ensure future growth in this sector.

In thinking about the future of environmental restoration another critical aspect to consider is the opportunity to transition traditional resource extraction jobs into restoration jobs. For instance, there has been a lot of discussion at the national level about the fate of the coal industry and what it means for those employed in the industry.

One such instructive example of that transition taking place is underway in Oregon where a number of workers in the logging industry have found employment in various capacities of the restoration sector. Programs supporting this transition were enabled by a patchwork quilt of entities, including state agencies, non-profits, foundations and more.

The importance of the restoration economy represents an opportunity for job growth often in towns and communities hardest hit by high unemployment. As such, policy-makers at the state and local level should embrace the financial and job benefits that this part of the green economy provides.

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