Skills that Work for Florida

The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was sold as an environmental rehab project to reverse decades of ecologicial decline in South Florida. But, as it moves from concept to implementation, the $8.4 billion public works project is becoming an economic development program for the state.

Officials have organized a workforce and small business development initiative around a select group of major construction and restoration projects that will cost approximately $1.6 billion to complete over the next four years.

Led by the South Florida Water Management District, restoration managers are 1) developing a database of minority- and locally-owned businesses to connect the global companies leading the construction with the Florida businesses that have the materials, laborers, and skills and 2) working with community colleges to train people in construction and heavy equipment operation.

One community college also is developing a program to train workers in more white-collar type jobs, such as computer aided construction site design and environmental science.

"Once these projects get up and running, we wont be able to train people fast enough," Alvin Jackson, a private consultant contracted by SFWMD to organize the community outreach, told me in an interview yesterday. In all, eight accelerated restoration projects will generate 4,000 jobs opportunities for local workers.

The workforce development program is pushing back on rampant unemployment in rural South Florida, and its becoming a nationally unique model for how public investments in environmental restoration can deliver greater economic opportunity to every day people.

When will leaders in the economically depressed greater Great Lakes region take notice?