Updated: Nov 19, 2020
What does a green economic recovery entail? In an op-ed in NJ.com, Rebecca Karp and Jen Becker make the case for centering offshore wind at heart of recovery. They discuss the need for an interstate approach to workforce development, employment, and MWBE procurement in order to support a new green industry that can stimulate inclusive economic growth.
Offshore Wind Could Help Our Economy Boom Again
This article originally appeared on NJ.com on November 13, 2020
Offshore wind has real potential to become not only the foundation of 21st-century renewable energy in the United States but a key driver of inclusive economic development now and for decades to come, say Rebecca Karp, CEO of Karp Strategies, and Jen Becker, a principal at the firm.
By Rebecca Karp and Jen Becker
With the federal government poised to be more supportive of the tri-state region than it has in the past, conversations around our regional economic recovery are finally able to begin in earnest, and there’s a lot of talk about a green recovery. There should be. This idea is critical for our future: we should use the greening of our region to create jobs, reduce our use of finite resources, and lead the way globally toward a more sustainable future.
There is one industry that must be central to this discussion: offshore wind. It has real potential to become not only the foundation of 21st-century renewable energy in the United States but a key driver of inclusive economic development now and for decades to come.
Govs. Phil Murphy and Andrew Cuomo have started a friendly rivalry to lead the race for offshore wind, but making meaningful inroads in this industry will require more than individual state by state efforts. To build both the social and physical infrastructure for an ecosystem that works for the offshore wind industry as a whole — developers, communities, and the new green workforce that we’ll need to cultivate to realize this future — what we need is interstate collaboration.
A regional approach is essential if we are to nurture the equitable growth of a new industry; position New Jerseyans and New Yorkers for the thousands of jobs in the pipeline; effectively assess and improve the supply chain to generate localized production and access; evaluate the landside opportunities for port and infrastructure development and ensure that local communities see an authentic upside.
States will need to collaborate with developers to create an equitable foundation for the growth of offshore wind so our region is more resilient post-COVID-19 than before the crisis.
To lay that foundation we need to do two things: first, establish an unprecedented regional green workforce development program, and second, ensure that we take this unique opportunity to affirm our commitment to diversity in a powerful new sector and the participation of minority and women-owned small businesses in building our offshore wind ecosystem.
We often rely on the statistic that offshore wind will generate 80,000 domestic jobs as it becomes the power source for millions of homes. But who will those jobs be for?
People must be able to see themselves in these positions. That is going to require widespread education and outreach to share accessible information about what offshore wind is and is not, and critically, training people for the jobs to come.
Many people still do not understand the job creation opportunities that will stem from this industry. For those who do, there is an image in the public consciousness of an offshore wind job either being in the water or behind a desk: manual labor or reserved for engineers. That’s far from the full picture. Offshore wind holds the promise for employment at every level and skill set, from procurement and administration to assembly and maintenance — a new green industry to stimulate our regional economy.
We should incentivize educational institutions from the Carolinas to Maine to create job training programs; not just graduate degrees at Columbia and Princeton but community college and high school programs that can train people in the development and maintenance of offshore wind systems.
In developing a nascent industry with as much promise as offshore wind, we also have a unique opportunity to prove our region’s commitment to diversity and Minority and women business-owned enterprise (MWBE) hiring so we rebuild our economy stronger and with justice at the forefront.
There are top-of-the-line MWBE firms ready and willing to do this work; governments and developers should prioritize them, looking outside state lines and sharing favored contractors to identify the best firms for the job.
Especially as we recover from COVID-19 and this recession, an extinction event for small- and minority-owned businesses, the earliest stages of the offshore wind industry must provide an economic adrenaline shot straight to the communities most in need: the small businesses that with every additional dollar used to hire more and reinvest locally.
This isn’t just about small businesses, though. We must ensure people of color are included in key leadership positions: on the development side, in public agencies, in community and advocacy groups. Communities of color are often the ones that bear the brunt of disruption wrought by large infrastructure projects, but offshore wind presents an opportunity to prioritize investments that advance community-centered goals and directly deliver jobs and training benefits to people who are too often excluded from the development process.
We cannot solve our greatest challenges alone; this past year has put a finer point on that. From COVID to climate change, we must address existential threats together.
The upshot is that offshore wind collaboration will yield a massive uplift for our entire region, leadership in a new industry for the 21st century that will yield jobs and inclusive economic growth for generations.
Now is the time to seize this opportunity. Our recovery depends on it.
Rebecca Karp is CEO of Karp Strategies, an NYC-based WBE urban planning consultancy. Jen Becker is a principal of the firm in charge of offshore wind initiatives.