The USF Center for Brownfields Research & Redevelopment is launching a program designed to clean up contaminated neighborhoods while creating jobs for residents. In collaboration with the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa, the Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training program will provide comprehensive training to East Tampa residents for full-time careers in environmental and brownfields remediation.
East Tampa is one of the largest Community Redevelopment Areas in the nation and is littered with blighted, abandoned lots that are polluted with solid waste.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provided a $200,000 grant to fund the program, which is also being supported by the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County and several community partners. It entails a five-week course for 60 individuals, who upon completion, will receive the certifications required to obtain jobs in the environmental sector. There is high demand for skills in hazardous waste management and environmental soil and water sampling. East Tampa is predominately minority, with 50% of households below the federal poverty level and nearly half of residents being unemployed. However, the region is of great potential as it’s an IRS-designated Opportunity Zone and state-designated Enterprise Zone, which provides tax incentives to encourage economic investment.
“For redevelopment efforts to be equitable and sustainable over the long term, we need more community residents trained appropriately in environmental remediation and related skills to benefit from redevelopment-related jobs that are increasingly available,” said Christian Wells, director of the USF Center for Brownfields Research & Redevelopment and professor of anthropology. “This is especially important for local brownfields assessment and cleanup efforts given the community’s proximity to industrial parks that produce cement, asphalt, paper and other products whose manufacture results in environmental contaminants. There is also documented need for workers trained in removing or renovating the area’s aging housing stock, the vast majority of which was constructed before the 1960s and has asbestos, lead-based paint, mold and other toxicants in both domestic and commercial properties.”
“The training program being conducted is not just employing people here and training them now, it’s allowing them to cleanup other sites throughout the city, throughout this community and perhaps throughout all of Florida,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler during a news conference in Tampa. “It’s really an incredible opportunity to clean up the environment, protect public health and create jobs all at the same time.”
Wells is targeting recruitment at individuals who are young adults, ex-offenders or those who represent hard-to-serve populations. In an effort to boost retention, he’s working with the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa to provide support services, such as bus passes, childcare subsidies, clothing, tools and other ancillary needs.
“The EPA Environmental Workforce Job Development and Training grants have allowed us to prepare our residents for careers in the environmental industry by providing certifications in green construction, wastewater, compressed natural gas and environmental remediation,” said Ernest Coney, president and CEO of the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa. “It is truly transformative witnessing a student learning the skills and then putting them to use in the field. Ultimately, the EPA grant is helping to create productive citizens and healthy communities.”
The first cohort of 20 students will begin the program in January. Their outcomes will be monitored over the course of one year to measure the program’s success. Wells has launched multiple initiatives designed to accelerate the pace of brownfields cleanup throughout Tampa Bay.
He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and winner of the 2019 Outstanding Faculty Award.