Anti-preservationists invoke the need for new jobs with a kind of knee-jerk instinctuality. All priorities must take a backseat to job creation. Battlefield threatened by a residential development? Regrettable, but we must have more jobs. Significant building in danger of demolition to make way for new construction? A pity, but we must have more jobs. Somebody wants to put a casino/multiplex/strip joint/theme park/whatever next door to a national park? A bit tacky, perhaps, but at the end of the day, we must have more jobs.
And we do indeed need to get people to work, especially these days. The problem is that this dichotomy between creating jobs and preservation isn’t valid. It operates under the assumption that we must pick one or the other. And that’s just not true.
Historic preservation creates more jobs than new construction. This is a little-known fact, but one that makes sense when you consider that preservation is a labor-intensive industry. It takes people to repair existing material rather than replacing it outright with new material. In Minnesota, it’s estimated that preservation will create 5.7 more jobs than manufacturing, 4 more than road construction, and 2 more than new construction for every $1 million in output. Our new state historic tax credit could create between 1,500 and 3,000 new jobs alone if we follow the success of other states. This is powerful when you consider that we are putting to work the population of a town the size of Granite Falls; we are helping to sustain these peoples’ livelihoods and the money they spend in their communities.
Let government entities know that if they want to stimulate job creation, they can also act as good stewards of historic treasures by providing tax credits to projects that will put more people to work by repairing and restoring significant landmarks. We don’t have to sacrifice cultural resources on the altar of economic growth, or make economic sacrifices to preserve irreplaceable treasures. We can have our cake and eat it too.