First Friday: the Blue Economy

Chris Adams, Chief of Staff at the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce and Program Director for the Cape Cod Blue Economy Project, spoke at the December First Friday Breakfast Meeting about the Blue Economy. Chris is a native of Cape Cod, and came back because he loves it here.

In a strategic plan session at the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce four years ago, one of the ideas for taking us economically into a healthy, sustainable future was a focus on our water-based industries.

Water is our single greatest resource on Cape Cod. It defines us. We are water dependent. Keeping a connection to water is critical to our economic development, because here on Cape Cod the environment is our economy.

Almost everything here has a connection to water, so how do we find new opportunities, and leverage our resources?

History has shown us how not to do it. By the late 18th century resources on the Cape had been over-exploited. Early settlers deforested the Cape for houses, shipbuilding and fuel. Later, when ship building went away (and related cottage industries), it had a profound effect on our economy.

In the 20th century we entered into the economy of tourism, which brought us out of the desolate wasteland of tapped resources we were heading toward, Chris said. The challenge now is stabilizing tourism with healthy resources and a vibrant economy.

In 2015 the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce established the blue economy project. The Blue Economy Plan was funded by MA Seaport in 2016-17, with an action plan released in 2018. Also in 2018, the Blue Economy Foundation was created.

The three major themes of the Blue Economy Foundation are:

  • Vibrant Maritime & Tech Economy
  • Healthy Environment = Healthy Economy
  • Prepared & Educated workforce for the future

In the action plan, they assigned labels to businesses — from dark blue businesses that rely on or are located here because of water, to light blue businesses which are tangentially related. The plan focused on the 1800 dark and medium blues businesses, which represent a significant piece of who we are as a region.

Actions in the plan include:

  • Innovation
  • Access to water infrastructure
  • Financial support
  • Education
  • Permitting
  • Marketing & awareness
  • Workforce development
  • Establishing networks

The plan addresses workforce development – primarily in marine technology. If we can take the technologies being developed and develop them into businesses, they can grow into high quality year round jobs. 

There is also the potential for economic development around alternative wastewater technologies. We are under a legal mandate to clean up our wastewater on Cape Cod, and there is a burgeoning industry ready to take off. Big pipes make sense in high density areas, Chris said, but not for all of Cape Cod. For less dense areas, alternative wastewater technologies are under consideration. “We are creating what we think is a new industry,” Chris said. “Companies who are working on these technologies are going to want to be here.”

There are also opportunities to develop solutions to coastal resiliency challenges. We have incredible things already happening in ocean farming, aquaculture, and kelp farming. These industries are blossoming here. As farm animals and land use become a larger problem with our growing population, we have resources here to address our needs.

We also have the largest offshore windfarm in the country planned, with scheduled production in 2019. There are a lot of opportunities for storage projects and other technologies, increasing economic development in our region.

In a large part, the plan creates — or identifies — a new regional identity. We live here because we grew up here, summered here, or retired here. As we know, Cape Cod is not always the easiest place to work, so people make a conscious choice to stay here, and the Blue Economy Foundation thinks that choice has to do with the water. Everything we do is connected to our water-based environment, and we need to better understand, and help others understand, the importance of a healthy environment. Our regional identity should be pride in who we are as a blue economy. There are blue economies all over the world, but none exactly like us.

Chris envisions a time when we can walk down main street, mention the blue economy, and people will know what we’re talking about. We’re not there yet, but incredible progress has been made over the last two years.

In addition to creating the Blue Economy Foundation, there are several ongoing initiatives to make this happen:

Blue Wheelhouse
A center for realization/technology transfer. They are retooling this idea to find a way to make the initiative work.

STEM partnerships
They are working with the STEM network. Value of working with young people and helping them understand what our water based economy is all about. 

A water focused career day. This is a new initiative, and hasn’t been done anywhere in the country that Chris is aware of. WaterWorks showcases all aspects of the blue economy – from marine trades to tech. There’s a myth that there are no good jobs, but there’s incredible work happening here, including world class science in Falmouth. There are 300 kids, 40 businesses registered so far. If you go away to college, stay for college, or don’t attend college at all, there are career opportunities here.

Did you know?
A public relations effort, with stories in the Cape Cod Times every week.

Student Survey
At the end of the last school year they sent a survey to schools all over Cape Cod, gauging student perception of the blue economy, what their career thoughts are, are there fields here they would be interested in.

Expedition Blue
A proposed maritime trail across the region, tying marine heritage to today’s economy, with stories relevant to sites where people already go — Woods Hole steamship authority terminal, Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, and others. They will know more in February if this is happening.

The Blue Economy Foundation is looking for funding to build organizational capacity, and then will select projects based on available funding. Projects are based on data, so they’re looking to do a deeper dive into data. They’re also looking into the skills gap, and how that can be addressed through STEM and school systems.

Chris Adams has been very active in the Cape community for decades and has a thorough understanding of complex issues such as energy, transportation, maritime, water resources, and the environment. He has been a small business owner, worked for two members of the U.S. Congress, been very involved in the local marine industry, and serves as a fire department officer, EMT, and public safety dive team leader.

Chris graduated from Barnstable High School and holds a BA from Ohio Wesleyan University. He is enrolled in the Institute for Organizational Management, a four-year professional development program at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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