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New Opportunities for a “Restoration Economy” on the Coast

By Laura Rusu

Thibodaux, LA  (July 19, 2012) – Over one hundred people with interests in the new “Restoration Economy” joined international relief and development organization Oxfam America, along with The Nature Conservancy and Coast Builders Coalition in Thibodaux, LA today to share information about training and employing local workers in projects to restore ecosystems along the battered Gulf Coast.. The recently passed RESTORE Act will soon funnel from $5 billion to $21 billion into the Gulf States, with the potential to create thousands of new jobs and business opportunities.

Attending the forum were businesses that have specific interests in the new restoration projects, especially dredging, engineering, and construction firms; government agencies that help retrain and locate workers; nonprofits that work in the communities; and conservation organizations that aim to maximize investments in ecosystem restoration projects that protect coastal communities and make them more resilient in the face of hazards.

“The RESTORE Act gives the region a tremendous opportunity to repair and restore the vital and delicate ecosystems that many have relied on for their livelihoods,” said Irit Tamir, Senior Advocacy and Collaborations Advisor for Oxfam. “We see the opportunity to create a whole new market that employs hundreds and thousands of people and injects new life into the communities.”

Oxfam America and The Nature Conservancy presented a new report at the forum entitled “Rebuilding Our Economy, Restoring Our Environment: How the Emerging Restoration Economy Offers New and Expanded Opportunities for Gulf Coast Businesses and Communities.” The report underscores the importance of the Gulf Coast to the country’s environment and economy, and explores the potential of the new restoration economy to employ people, revitalize the economy, and repair vital ecosystems.

"It was tremendously exciting to gather these people from such different arenas, to see how they could assist each other in embarking on new enterprises that benefit the environment and economy of the Gulf Coast,” said Cindy Brown, Gulf of Mexico Program Director for The Nature Conservancy. 

"The business community has always been a tremendous supporter of coastal restoration in our area,” noted Simone Maloz, Executive Director of Restore or Retreat, a regional coastal advocacy group based in Thibodaux, and host of the forum.  “We are pleased to be able to give back in a small way by hosting this forum and providing information about the ways that coastal restoration can help local businesses grow and maximize their investments in this restoration economy.”

The joint report notes that an investment of $1 million dollars in a restoration project generates from 17 to 36 jobs. “That’s a tremendous return on investment,” said Scott Kirkpatrick, President of the Coast Builders Coalition. “And we have further proof that these are good jobs that pay wages that can sustain families. Business owners are invested in the health of our communities, and are eager to use the local workforce where practical.”

“In order for businesses to enter new markets such as the construction of oyster reefs, the flow of funding for ecosystem restoration and management cannot be intermittent or cyclic,” said Dr. Sherwood “Woody” Gagliano, CEO of Coastal Environments, Inc. who presented at the forum. “With the passage of the RESTORE Act, there is an opportunity for long-term, meaningful investment in projects that will not only provide significant benefits to the environment, but also to local workers, businesses, and communities.”

“This is a moment of incredible opportunity,” said Patrick Barnes, President of BFA Environmental and founder of Limitless Vistas, a nonprofit organization preparing New Orleans area disadvantaged youths for environmental jobs. “The money from the oil spill fines gives us a real chance to make things right in the community and in the environment. We can retrain the folks who were displaced, and employ them in repairing the damage. If the game plan to repair the environmental harm does not include making the impacted communities whole through training and real job opportunities, then we would have failed. These projects must help to revitalize the local economy and the life of these communities as they adapt to these challenges.”

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