Between 2006 and 2011, during the worst economic period since World War II for design and construction firms, my company has quadrupled in size. We have hired both professional and semi-skilled workers. The reason for that is we have focused our work on fixing community stormwater systems.
These systems of pipes, trenches and ponds that drain rain water from our cities and suburbs have been badly neglected in the past few decades. Many jurisdictions estimate at least 30 percent of their stormwater facilities no longer function. That means increased flooding and the potential for catastrophic floods if a major failure occurs.
If unchecked and untreated, stormwater also picks up lawn fertilizer, pet waste and toxic chemicals and dumps the pollutants in creeks, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, causing beach closings throughout the summer in many areas. In fact, Maryland health officials warn us not to swim in state waters for 48 hours after a storm precisely because of polluted runoff.
Awakening to the dramatic scope of this problem, representatives from Baltimore City and Baltimore, Prince George's and Howard counties have testified in favor of state legislation that would help. A bill moving through the legislature establishes a potential source of funding for improved maintenance and upgrading of local stormwater systems. By establishing local stormwater utilities, this funding source would be implemented by, and at the discretion of, local municipalities throughout Maryland.
Every lobbyist in the halls of power seems to tout a job creation scheme these days, but I can state for a fact that government investment in stormwater facilities is one of the most cost-effective ways to boost private sector employment. Compared to other government subsidy programs, money for stormwater projects gets a terrific bang for the buck. This is because much of the work requires less heavy equipment than other construction work, and more manual labor.
In Montgomery County, officials say they will employ 3,300 private sector workers tackling stormwater system projects in the next three and a half years.Prince George's County officials estimate they can create more than 2,600 private sector jobs if given the funds. Start multiplying these numbers times the number of counties and municipalities that would be helped by the legislation, and you begin to realize the employment potential for a modest investment.
I believe we can't depend upon traditional new housing construction and real estate activity to bring our economy back. I believe this because housing and commercial real estate assets were significantly overbuilt over the past several decades. I see a paradigm shift in employment in the design and construction industries. Simply put, the old ways will never return. But as the focus shifts to the regeneration of existing infrastructure and redevelopment in our existing cities and towns, stormwater system upgrades offer a double bonus: tremendous opportunity for employment, and improved water quality.
It is time for our legislators to get creative and establish new ways to create jobs. I believe establishing local stormwater utilities will do just that.
Some people say environmental initiatives are bad for business. My personal experience is the opposite.
Theodore Scott, Hunt Valley
The writer is executive vice president and owner of Stormwater Maintenance, LLC & Stormwater Consulting, Inc.