Greening our city and cleaning its waters benefits more than the environment.
These actions advance the everyday lives of working Philadelphians. These plans nurture more than our planet; it nourishes its people — their livelihood, their families, and their careers.
Ten years ago, we planted the seeds to grow a green economy. Today, with thousands of skilled individuals working around green stormwater infrastructure tools, this dream has blossomed into a reality.
From at-risk youth to Ph.D. recipients, green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) has sparked a spectrum of careers in the Philadelphia area, including positions in the design, construction, inspection, maintenance, and community engagement fields — to name a few.
Since the adoption of Green City, Clean Waters in 2011, through 2019, jobs in Philadelphia’s green stormwater infrastructure industry grew by more than 13%—more than double the City’s roughly 6% increase in overall jobs growth, according to the Sustainable Business Network’s 2021 report, Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI): A Tool for Economic Recovery and Growth in Pennsylvania.
GCCW Creation = Job Creation
The Triple Bottom Line—a framework supporting social, environmental, and economic benefits—has been coded into the DNA of Green City, Clean Waters.
When the 25-year plan was established a decade ago, the intent was to use an innovative policy to stimulate Philadelphia’s economy. Along with boosting local business, the installation of green tools was designed to spur jobs—and a decade later, has been delivered.
Even before Green City, Clean Waters was implemented, two dozen local green stormwater infrastructure business firms were founded in direct response to the Water Department’s 2006 institution of new stormwater regulations for all development projects that disturb more than 15,000 square feet of earth. In 2010, the Water Department created the Stormwater Credits Program for non-residential customers, further blazing a trail for businesses specializing in GSI.
These early firms helped establish the Sustainable Business Network’s GSI Partners—the region’s only “business-informed effort focused on advancing green approaches to stormwater management,” which currently encompasses 120 businesses based throughout the Greater Philadelphia region. These partners include locally-owned engineering, landscape design, construction, and maintenance firms.
"Green Stormwater Infrastructure projects are typically smaller than gray infrastructure projects with less onerous contract bidding requirements. These projects provide more opportunities for small businesses to participate as the prime contractor or as a subcontractor. The Green City, Clean Waters program has increased the number of public and private contracts that my firm is able to bid on,” Lou Rodriguez of Rodriguez Consulting, a GSI Partner, told the Sustainable Business Network in 2016.
Diverse Skills & Equitable Jobs
The tremendous growth of a Green City, Clean Waters job market is undeniable…
As of 2021, the Greater Philadelphia region now sustains more than 10,000 GSI workers. (In 2016, there were only roughly 430 Philadelphia-based jobs existing in the GSI sector!)
From landscapers to design engineers, from construction workers to maintenance techs, from the private sector to City agencies—the need for stormwater management has led to the birth of an emerging and thriving workforce in Philadelphia, benefiting employees of all skill levels.
"The diversity of our staff and partners, on both a professional and personal level, gives all of us working on Green City, Clean Waters more perspective and helps us to create projects that do more than just manage stormwater," says Jessica Brooks, of Director the Water Department's Green Stormwater Infrastructure Unit.
The most striking example of the symbiotic relationship between good stormwater management policy and stormwater management-specific job training programs comes from PowerCorps PHL.
Established two years after Green City, Clean Waters, PowerCorps has trained more than 700 young people between the ages of 18 and 30. After they graduate from their cohort, more than 90% enter the ‘green industry,’ including stormwater management. This training method directly translates into a stable career, as half of GSI workers in the state make at least $15 an hour, including individuals without a high school diploma or equivalent. (That’s more than twice the minimum wage in Pennsylvania!)
Through stormwater management and other green training programs, PowerCorps has methodically targeted the creation of new opportunities for returning citizens and at-risk youth. The program actively seeks out individuals at the forefront of our city’s social issues, provides them with stable professional and personal support systems, and gives them a path to success.
“PowerCorps has been a helping hand for me,” says PowerCorps apprentice Breana Rosa. “The way I see it: the people at PowerCorps really care about your future. "They will help you walk down a path, but it’s up to you to walk down it. They really help open your eyes. I have learned so much here.”
Of the more than 400 people with criminal records who have gone through PowerCorps, only 8% have a one-year post-program recidivism rate—nearly 1/6th the 45% city-wide average.
“Graduates also earn preference points in the City’s Civil Service process for their service, AmeriCorps education awards to subsidize post-secondary education, employment, and a lifetime professional network and alumni career services,” says Julia H. of PHL PC, in reflection of the transformational work of this program in tandem with Green City, Clean Waters.
And with 15 more years of Green City, Clean Waters ahead of us, this is a stable, adaptable, and thriving field that graduates can rely on as they start a new career!
“Through PowerCorps and through their apprenticeship, I’m learning about a career,” former PowperCorp apprentice Aaron Kirkland said in 2017. “You know, I fell in love with it. The manipulation of nature with technology to manage stormwater and aesthetically maintaining our city and the communities that I live in and that my friends and family live in.”
Today, Aaron is the Grounds and Facilities Maintenance Supervisor for the Water Department’s Green Stormwater Operations (GSO)!
The Water Department’s GSO division is composed of scientists, engineers, inspectors, and maintenance technicians that work collaboratively to maintain more than 1,300 GSI systems around the city. During any given year managing PWD’s GSI assets may require more than 20,000 individual work orders distributed among the Water Department, PowerCorps, and contractors' crews.
The Water Department’s GSO unit is directly complemented by the Office of Watersheds, and the GSI Implementation Unit, which has grown from less than 10 people when Green City, Clean Waters was founded in 2011 to more than 100 employees all with one goal: using green tools to protect local waterways.
“I find the work that I do meaningful, challenging, and transformative,” says Ben Clements, Design & Construction Projects Manager. “I enjoy working with communities and professionals across all disciplines to rethink existing urbanized spaces and develop solutions centered around more responsible stormwater management that are impactful, relevant, and help build a more resilient City.”
Opportunities for Minority & Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE)
The City has a goal of working with at least 35% Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) to bring about equitable change and opportunity. At the Water Department, our Office of Watersheds, which manages the development of green stormwater infrastructure, is currently working with 46 local businesses, 21 of which are MWBEs, representing roughly 45% of these contracts supporting a more equitable economy and working environment in the city.
In the PowerCorps program, more than 99% of trainees are young people of color and 24% identify as women. This program offers a potential pathway to entrepreneurship and has already offered a route toward City employment for many participants.
“Serving with PowerCorpsPHL has meant a lot to me in the sense of having a direct impact in my community through environmental stewardship,” says PowerCorps apprentice Dominique Jovin. “It’s an accomplishing feeling to see how we positively affect the environment.”
Work for the Water Department!
With 15 more years of Green City, Clean Waters ahead of us—and decades longer designing, building, inspecting, and maintaining these green tools (both public and private)—these are opportunities for new careers.
Even on a national scale, water infrastructure investments are predicted to increase businesses sales by trillions of dollars over the next two decades, creating more than a million jobs per year in design, engineering, and construction fields.
With a growing green stormwater infrastructure sector, we encourage you to apply today!
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Thanks to you, there are many more stories to tell! Join us as we reflect on 10 years of Green City, Clean Waters and celebrate the folks who helped make this all possible.