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As money flows from Legacy Amendment, Minnesotans will see new jobs

Among the amendment's ripple effects: jobs to help protect forests and lakes.
Among the amendment’s ripple effects: jobs to help protect forests and lakes.

The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment never was envisioned as a jobs engine when it was crafted years ago, but pumping $481 million into those areas in the next two years could bring some welcome ripple effects across Minnesota.

Let’s assume the House and Senate work out their differences [PDF] and Gov. Tim Pawlenty signs the legislation to implement the Legacy Amendment. Let’s also assume state forecasts hold and the new money starts trickling in after the sales-tax increase takes effect in July.

Though lawmakers say no analysis of potential job creation was crunched in drafting the legislation, MinnPost called several agencies, nonprofits and businesses to see what kinds of jobs are likely to become available. We found short-term and long-term jobs ranging from summer interns making $11 an hour to monitor water quality and naturalists earning up to $55,000 a year to private contractors hiring construction workers to build new trails and park facilities and engineers gearing up to work with Minnesota’s watershed districts.

It’s too early to tell exactly how many jobs will be created, saved or restored, or if they’ll offset 103,400 job losses in Minnesota since February 2008 — 81,700 of those since last October. It’s also too early to tell whether infusions of Legacy money into state agencies like the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minnesota State Arts Board will counteract scheduled budget cuts from the general fund and reduced grants from foundations.

But “even one little square in a quilt of efforts” can make a difference, says Steve Hine, labor market information director for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. “It’s not necessary that these sorts of things alone bring about the turnaround, but that they have the spillover effects and the multiplier effects which will create an environment where the private sector will add jobs.”

“I’m not an economist so I can’t give an extrapolation of job creation, but certainly with amendment payments of several hundred million dollars, it is inevitable there will be some employment,” said DFL Sen. Richard Cohen, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a key architect of the amendment. “Certainly, through working on habitat restoration, working on clean water, expanding clean water facilities and repairing them, I’m sure they’ll be using more people.”

A look upstream and downstream
As billions of dollars flow into cleanup and legacy projects through the 25-year life of the amendment, jobs are anticipated upstream and downstream, in metro and outstate parks, forests and trails, in the restoration of habitats and in setting aside and maintaining prairies and forests for the future, in individual studios and in arts and cultural groups, in nonprofits, and in private businesses serving all of the above. Even the endangered species of journalists could be helped as millions of dollars are proposed for public broadcasting entities to document Minnesota’s efforts to improve its quality of life and preserve its heritage through the Legacy Amendment.

Unlike other dedicated funds that governors and legislators have tapped to fill unrelated budget gaps in the past, the Legacy Amendment funds can’t be raided. “It’s constitutionally dedicated, so it’s impossible” to use the funds for anything other than what’s authorized in the amendment, he said. Legislators also have capped how much can be spent on administering the funds, typically 1 percent to 2.5 percent of the grant amount.

“I would suggest that any natural resources professional is very excited about the future,” said Forrest Boe, deputy director for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ parks and trails division. “If we take a step back … this is a great day for parks and trails. This funding will serve the residents of the state of Minnesota very well. Whether they’re a state park user, or a metropolitan park or regional park user, there’s money going toward parks and trails.”

Here’s a sampling of the new jobs MinnPost found, contingent on the legislation being signed into law:

• DNR’s parks and trails division could hire eight full-time naturalists earning $35,000 to $55,000 a year and create 12 naturalist internships earning $10-$11 an hour;

• The DNR’s ecological resources division expects to add three technical specialists earning $45,000 to $60,000 and a coordinator earning $50,000 to $74,000 to help with Total Maximum Daily Load planning and development for Minnesota’s impaired waters;

• The Minnesota Conservation Corps plans to hire at least 35 more young adults for its service program, which pays $1,100 a month and gives a $4,725 voucher toward college;

• The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) will add 20 summer interns to monitor water quality at $11 an hour.

• The Northfield-based Cannon River Watershed Partnership hopes to leverage state grants with foundation money to add three to four positions in the seven-member nonprofit, which focuses on water monitoring over parts of six counties.

Though most of the above are government jobs, there’s a trickle-down effect in that the DNR, the MPCA and others also will serve as pass-through agencies, awarding dollars to local entities trying to improve their water and to nonprofits and businesses, which are expected to receive grants and contracts for everything from consulting to cleanup to construction projects. Forty percent of Minnesota’s waters are considered impaired, so there’s plenty of work ahead.

The biggest pots of money go to two funds: Clean Water and Outdoor Heritage, each of which is expected to receive $158.7 million over the 2010-2011 biennium or 33 percent of the dollars generated by the sales-tax increase. The Arts and Cultural Heritage fund will get about $95 million in that period (or 19.75 percent of collections), and the Parks and Trails fund, $68.5 million or 14.25 percent. Within each fund is a food chain of sorts that passes on the money to designated projects. For example, the Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council will recommend to the Legislature how funds be spent for land acquisition and habitat restoration.

One job feeds another job
For now, Jay Michels, a project manager in the Oakdale office of Emmons Olivier Resources Inc., expects that clean water money will help retain the 45 employees of the water resources engineering company. “The reality is that we haven’t laid anybody off, and work has been steady because of money budgeted in the last two legislative sessions” for clean water efforts, said Michels, whose firm has studied more than 10 percent of Minnesota’s waters under the current clean water funding. “It isn’t so much adding people but keeping people in jobs; a lot of people in the engineering community are walking the streets right now.”

Emmons Olivier, whose engineers earn on average $75,000 to $80,000 a year, expects to bid on watershed work as money filters down to local entities. The company also has lobbied at the Capitol for a share of $500,000 available to consultants to develop standards, policies and programs to address low-impact development, a design process that “mimics natural hydrology,” Michels says. “Instead of a raindrop on a roof traveling down the roof … and into the street … low-impact development makes it go into side yards and backyards” via rain gardens, bioretention cells and vegetated swales.

Rain gardens call for jobs in excavation to dig the holes and fill with sand and compost. “It works its way into recycling and reuse of resources,” Michels said. The little plants needed for these gardens “support a whole industry that grows these plants.”

And so it goes: One job feeds another job.

“You can say that in many cases this [Legacy Amendment] will be providing employment and job opportunities for people who otherwise may not be employed because of the state of the economy,” said K. William Easter, a professor of applied economics at the University of Minnesota who specializes in natural resources and water. “They will turn around and buy groceries, clothing and gas for their car. This goes to another round of people who will turn around and spend.”

On average, every $1 spent in a regional economy generates about $2 of economic activity overall, said Ann Markusen, professor and director of the Project on Regional and Industrial Economics for the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.      

Revisiting the WPA?
Though the Legacy Amendment wasn’t intended as an economic stimulus when it was first envisioned several years ago, it’s starting to look a little like the federal Work Projects Administration created during the Great Depression, which put Americans to work building bridges and facilities in national parks and in other projects.

With 250,000 Minnesotans unemployed amid fears of increasing joblessness, “It’s a pretty appropriate time to be making these investments,” Easter said of the Legacy Amendment.

The Minnesota Conservation Corps, which is somewhat akin to the Civilian Conservation Corps created during the Depression, could see its $3.1 million budget grow to $5.7 million under the Legacy funding, said MCC Executive Director Len Price, who expects a number of grants for MCC crews to assist in clean water projects.

“Over the years this [Legacy Amendment] will be an economic stimulus, but MCC is just a little part of this,” Price said. “People are going to be buying equipment and consuming a lot of things for these projects. It will help business and provide employment elsewhere.”

Businesses are eager for the work and point out the potential savings to the state during a recession. “Contractors are very hungry and there’s a lot of competition,” said David Semerad, CEO of Associated General Contractors of Minnesota, a trade group for nonresidential contractors. “You’ve got 30 to 50 percent unemployment in building — we’ll take every dollar of infrastructure investment we can get.”

The Three Rivers Park District, a regional park system serving suburban Hennepin County, is expecting $5 million for projects including replacing a retaining wall on Lake Independence in the Baker Park Reserve, completing three miles of trail on the Medicine Lake regional trail, and renovating Eastman Nature Center by adding classroom and exhibit space.

“We’re looking at it as almost like a miniature bonding bill for us,” said Boe Carlson, associate superintendent for Three Rivers, which has a $27 million annual budget. “It’s providing a lot of capital to jumpstart projects.” What Three Rivers cannot complete on its own will be contracted out to builders, architects and engineers, he said.

Arts: a labor-intensive sector
Markusen, whose research specialty is the arts economy, says the arts and culture sector is “labor intensive” and could gain from the Legacy infusion. “If we’re talking about helping smaller arts organizations retain their staffs and add people and about making grants to self-employed artists, there’s no question the Legacy Amendment will help,” she said.

According to a Dun & Bradstreet analysis for Americans for the Arts, Minnesota is home to 12,338 arts-related businesses that employ 51,436 people. Forty percent of artists are self-employed and rely on grants and contract work, and many take unrelated jobs to supplement their income.

“As more artists are able to work full time on their artwork, other people can move into the jobs they’re leaving,” Markusen said. “We also know that artists spend a lot of their money locally, supporting other local artists and businesses, so there’s a higher multiplier effect.”

But Markusen is skeptical that there will be net job growth across the board in clean water, land, and arts and cultural investments. “One thing to keep in mind for all three of these areas is that quite likely some of this money is going to be used to make up for shortfalls in state funding,” she said.

Case in point: The DNR’s waters division hired eight technicians in the current biennium to begin work on the state’s impaired waters. If not for the new amendment, these people would be out of a job on July 1.

Casey Selix, a news editor and staff writer for, can be reached at cselix[at]minnpost[dot]com.

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