Florida's Restoration Economy Goes Primetime

There was a time when Eric Balthazar was under-educated and out of a job. Then civic leaders in his state accelerated a major environmental restoration program and devised a workforce training initiative go with it. Today, as the multi-billion public works project shifts into high gear, Mr. Balthazar and hundreds of his job-seeking neighbors boast new skills and full employment.

Is that sort of creative policy making and investment happening in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, or somewhere in the Great Lakes, you ask? Nope. Florida.

"We're creating jobs and small business opportunities through environmental restoration," Alvin Jackson, the director of outreach for the restoration project, recently told WXEL TV.

I recently toured several Everglades restoration projects with Mr. Jackson, pictured above, to better understand the economic benefits of the project. My goal was to uncover evidence that strengthens the business case for investing in a public project of similiar magnitude to restore the Great Lakes. The findings are promising.

In total, Everglades restoration could generate "as many as 10,000 new jobs in construction, maintenance, and operation," H. James Sigsbee, chief financial officer at Northern Trust Bank, wrote in a 1999 paper. "Those new jobs, in turn, will mean more demand for housing, furnishings, and other consumer spending that will total far more than the [original investment in restoration.]"

Sigsbee suggested a so-called "multiplier effect of 2 or 3 is conservative." Meaning, for every billion invested in restoration communities could see as much as $2 or $3 billion in additional economic activity. At the time, project managers were projecting some $5.5 billion in everglades restoration construction, which would translate to as much as $16 billion in economic return, according to Sigsbee.

These days, Alvin Jackson's talking about the economics of restoration on the nightly news in South Florida. Click here to see a brief video news report about how Florida - and the federal government - are generating jobs, strengthening quality of life, and boosting competitiveness by investing in environmental revitalization.

By sharp contrast, civic leaders in the Great Lakes region today issued a preliminary report lamenting the sad fact that Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, and Ohio rank near the bottom in spending for natural resource conservation and management.