Worth Repeating: The region has to be ready for the green economy

Here is another look at my contribution to the Waterloo Region Record’s Community Editorial Board, printed August 16th:


“The region has to be ready for the green economy

August 16, 2010

By Jason Hammond

At least once a year, I try to get a canoe in the water and put in some quality time paddling. I had the pleasure of doing so recently, keeping it local with a few hours on the Grand River. While I enjoyed the chance to see fish, herons and countless geese, the wildlife that got me thinking most were the cyclists and golfers.

You see, I’ve become a fan of Richard Florida and his popular series of books about what he calls the creative class. I’m sure that in his mind, the ability to stay in the city while cycling on a long-distance trail, golfing beside or paddling down a major river, or taking in an afternoon of downhill skiing is just the kind of amenity that attracts the creative class. These activities, as well as the presence of three leading post-secondary educational institutions, the planned light rail transit, and so many other quality-of-life enhancers, encourage people who can live and work anywhere to happily make their home right here. This is fundamental to keeping our community prosperous.

That prosperity has taken a few hits lately. This newspaper has recently reported that while more people are at work in the region than ever before, there are still some 20,000 or more who are struggling to find employment. While many local businesses are creating jobs, the talents offered by these job seekers simply don’t match up. I’ve heard just such a scenario predicted by distinguished University of Waterloo economist Larry Smith: the dreaded skills gap.

Of course, the current economic bruising is also an opportunity for us to reinvent our community as we recover. In Florida’s most recent book, The Great Reset, he shows that previous significant downturns have been “the eras that ushered in new economic and social models and whole new ways of living and working.”

For example, his first chapter notes the recent surge in car-sharing. In our own local experience, Grand River CarShare has certainly felt the effects of a shifting economy. While we provided just one permanent full-time position two years ago, recent growth allows us to employ three dedicated staff today. With hundreds of members saving thousands of dollars, the urgency of financial relief for households has joined with the original social and environmental goals to create a whole new motivation for change.

As our community struggles to create employment for so many jobless citizens, I believe that the power of green enterprise is ready to be harnessed. After all, waste is the enemy of ecologist and capitalist alike. We know that many of our neighbours are highly skilled at the manufacturing work that built our local thriving cities. While some may want to retrain for new careers, we should also attract the manufacturers of the next economy: the green economy.

We already have the beginnings of a green employment cluster, with several solar technology firms as just a small sample. When one of them, ARISE, opened a new factory a few years ago, the necessary incentives were not available here, and Germany was rewarded with the investment. By doing more to make our region the best choice for green manufacturers, we can regain our pride in making what is needed most.

Once it was leather for our soldiers in the trenches of the Great War. Tomorrow it could be solar cells, wind turbines, smart meters, and other efficiency tools. If we are to enjoy a green and prosperous future, many such things must be made. We have thousands of people desperate to be making them. Let’s get to work.

Jason Hammond of Kitchener is the president of Grand River CarShare.”

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