Build the equitable green economy

“The new economy is going to be a green economy, and we intend to be at the center of it.”
County Executive Pat Ryan

The urgent need to decarbonize our economy and our built environment creates enormous opportunity. Over the next ten years, we will need to install over 30,000 heat pumps and over one million solar panels. We will need to thoroughly rehab and update thousands of homes, insulating attics, plugging air leaks, and installing efficient appliances. And we’ll need to continue the transformation of everything we produce, exchange, and consume so that it is compatible with a sustainable environment. There is a lot of work to be done!

A crucial task to shape the green economy is to ensure that all that work translates into economic opportunity and generates prosperity for everyone in Ulster County. The fossil energy industries of the twentieth century have long been a primary source of high-quality, family-sustaining jobs. Jobs in the clean energy industries of the twenty-first century must provide similar wages and opportunities. That’s why we have established a requirement that all renewable electricity the County consumes come from projects that pay prevailing wage rates during construction, and we are urging our municipalities and the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency to do the same.

We are also creating a Green Growth Fund to invest in green infrastructure, broadband internet access, efficient affordable housing, and healthy communities across the County. A centerpiece of that investment will be to leverage state and federal funds to expand our home retrofit program to weatherize and upgrade home efficiency, prioritizing the homes of those who can least afford the work and will benefit most from the energy savings. We’ll work with employers and training partners to use these worksites for hands-on job training. By 2025 the Fund will have generated hundreds of well-paying jobs and helped to lay the foundations for a clean and thriving economy for decades to come.

We will also launch several programs this year to broaden the offerings of the Ulster County Career Center for green employers and jobseekers. The Career Center – run by our Office of Employment and Training – provides training and job matching services across a wide range of industries. In 2020, we convened the Green Careers Coalition, bringing together employers, training partners, and labor and community organizations across the clean energy and green buildings sector to help ensure that trainings meet employer needs and help jobseekers access clear and well-connected career pathways in a variety of green careers.

What we are finding as we work with green employers to develop training programs is that green careers require a different mix of skills from the jobs of the past. Instead of the sharp distinction between blue-collar jobs – or manual labor – and white-collar jobs that are mostly “head work”, green-collar jobs require a mix of hands and head. They combine rapidly advancing technology, analysis of how to utilize that technology on the ground in specific situations, and the manual ability to install, assess, troubleshoot, and repair it. They offer an exciting range of possibilities to many young people and career changers who don’t want to be just a pair of hands and a strong back and also don’t want to be confined to an office chair and a computer screen. They also offer the opportunity to do truly meaningful work that benefits both their own neighborhoods and the entire planet, a value that we are finding is central to many of today’s jobseekers.

Preparing a generation of job seekers for these emerging careers will require changing how we educate. Our Green New Deal success will depend on combining creative curricula design and skills training to meet human resource needs and expand the problem-solving talent in the region. As early as middle school, we need to reinvigorate a focus on the traditional science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (or STEM) fields alongside opportunities for hands-on learning and cultivating creativity and critical thinking through the arts and humanities. Post-secondary education, too, will need to combine learning-by-thinking and learning-by-doing with expanded opportunities for internships and co-op work experiences, hands-on research, and practical skills training alongside classroom learning.

In all this work, equity must be an active pursuit, not just a passive value. We must seek out, uncover, and redress the economic, legislative, and policy frameworks that led to environmental injustices in historically disadvantaged communities. These communities are at a higher risk for compromised health, environmental and climate threats, and food insecurity, to name a few, requiring greater equity in decision making, problem solving, and solutions deployment countywide.

Although clean energy is a major focus of the Green New Deal, the green economy goes far beyond simply changing how we produce and use energy. Over the coming decades, we will need to redesign everything we use – from the spaces we live and work in, the clothing we wear, how we grow, process, and distribute our food, and all the items we use every day – to make them less wasteful and less resource-intensive. That means designing new products, new materials, new ways of interacting with customers, and whole new business models. New industries will be created, and old ones reshaped.

Our vision is that by 2040, Ulster County and the Hudson Valley will be seen as the center of innovation and business growth in burgeoning new fields including green design and construction, renewable materials, regenerative agriculture, water resource management, development and manufacturing of low waste product ecosystems, and more. We believe these sectors can become a key growth driver for the Ulster County economy, reaching one quarter of Ulster County businesses and jobs by 2040.

As a centerpiece and engine of this process, we envision a Hudson Valley Center for Climate and Environmental Solutions, a consortium of regional higher education institutions, green business leaders, and community partners that will combine research, prototyping, testing, and scale-up of the pipeline of environmental solutions that we will need in the 2030s and beyond with the education and training infrastructure these industries will demand.

By 2025, we aim to establish the bones of that Center, collaborating with educational partners, entrepreneurs, and investors to develop business incubators and accelerators, shared education and research space, and business-integrated learning opportunities in multiple green economy sectors. We will also work with our K-12 schools to pilot educational programs that will prepare the next generation for the multi-faceted needs of the green economy. And we will design and launch a Green Jobs Corps, offering young people the opportunity for a year of service making their community cleaner and more sustainable while learning valuable skills to prepare for work in the green economy. Through all of these efforts, by 2025 we aim to have helped more than 1000 green job seekers and employers connect with each other.

Programs we will launch in 2021 include:

Green Careers Coalition and Network

This year, the Green Careers Coalition will broaden its work to include additional partners and fields, including water resources and water supply management. And we will launch a Green Careers Network, offering job matching services across the green economy. If you want a career making a difference to your community’s environment, whether it’s working on the frontlines of the clean energy transformation, stewarding our natural resources, or designing the next generation of products and materials, get in touch and we will help you find the opportunities and the training you need. And if you’re an employer working in this space, get in touch to post your jobs, find talented candidates, and join our quickly-expanding Green Careers Coalition. Get connected at https://gnd.ulstercountyny.gov/green-careers/.

Green Summer Youth Internships

This summer we will offer several different internship opportunities for youth and jobseekers exploring green careers. The Career Center will offer a green track on our Summer Youth Employment Program. The program offers a five-week paid work experience for income-qualified youth ages 14-20.  Green worksites this summer will include Organic farming, Green Retail & Customer Service, Green Construction, Green Educational Programming, and Green Landscaping. The program runs from June 28 to July 30, 2021.

We will also be partnering with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection to offer internships for college students in environmental studies, biology, and engineering in water quality monitoring, research, and engineering. And we’ll be partnering with Citizens for Local Power to offer their second Empower Kingston Green Jobs Apprenticeship, a four-week opportunity for hands-on training with a variety of clean energy and green building contractors. Participants in all of these internships are eligible for Green Careers Academy courses at SUNY Ulster and additional on-the-job training opportunities through the Career Center. Learn more about these opportunities at https://gnd.ulstercountyny.gov/green-careers/green-internships/.

Ulster Green Economy Network (UGREEN)

The Green Economy is a diverse group of businesses that cut across traditional sectors. Some green businesses directly provide environmental services – such as green construction, clean energy, energy efficiency, water quality management, landscaping, and green design. Others provide a wide variety of goods and services – bakeries and breweries, real estate and insurance companies, media and software developers – doing what they do in the most sustainable way possible. 

UGREEN will bring green economy businesses, investors, and individuals together with our Office for Economic Development and our business development partners to understand green business needs and facilitate productive connections. Quarterly gatherings will combine informative and inspiring presentations with opportunities for networking. They will also be an opportunity to promote Green Careers training offerings and job openings and to celebrate new Green Business Champions. Smaller facilitated peer networks within green subsectors will provide opportunities for information sharing, problem-solving, and sector-building. The Office of Economic Development will use all this information to target business support to growth areas and leverage points within our green economy. By 2025, our target is that UGREEN is networking and supporting 500 green businesses, or more than 10 percent of all businesses in the County.

Water Solutions Clean-Tech Accelerator

Ulster County is partnering with the Kingston-based Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship Network (GCSEN Foundation), Sustainable Hudson Valley, Fala Technologies, and a broad network of innovators in the water sector to offer an accelerator experience for early-stage businesses that can grow jobs in the County. Based on the top 15 nationally-ranked Gener8tor accelerator model, the program will offer three-month intensive experiences for five to ten companies in each round, with up-front investment, mentorship, and networking with potential customers and investors. Each company will have an innovative water solution addressing sectors such as water pollution, water infrastructure, wastewater treatment, environmentally-sensitive hydroelectric power, water testing, and filtering. Companies will include US and international high growth startups with manufactured or software products, as well as Hudson Valley growth-oriented small businesses. For more information on how to collaborate, contact Tony DiMarco (tony@gcsen.com).

Green Growth Fund

Drawing on a variety of state, federal, and local sources, Ulster County will create a Green Growth Fund to power all the work we need to do to protect and transform our communities. Working with municipal, community, and labor stakeholders, we will develop a list of Green Infrastructure projects (see box) in areas including road and bridge flood resilience, efficient, affordable housing construction and retrofit, clean transit and walkable streets, and universal broadband access. The Green Growth Fund will be used to work through this list, generating hundreds of well-paying jobs while we ensure a healthy, resilient, and low carbon future. Ulster County municipalities who participate in the Climate Smart and Housing Smart Communities Programs will have priority access to these funds.

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