Construction jobs soar with Little Caesars Arena work

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — Metro Detroit added 2,900 construction jobs in the last 12 months and has one of the highest job growth rates in the country, officials with the Associated General Contractors of America said on Tuesday.

The association released its latest figures inside the under-construction Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, where more than an average of 1,400 workers are on site daily to get the massive sports and entertainment arena ready for its debut this fall. The crew worked more than 2 million man hours in the month of March alone.

Since September, more than 230 Detroit-resident apprentices have been working onsite at the arena, said Dannis Mitchell, director of workforce development with Barton Malow.

Of the 70 companies working on the arena project, 40 of them are Detroit-based, Mitchell said. That number exceeds the 30 percent requirement set for hiring Detroit-based companies, she said. No figures were available on the number of Detroiters hired, however.

“We want to thank Olympia Entertainment and the Ilitch family for taking a leap of faith in Detroit at a time it was needed,” Mitchell said. “We are seeing families starting to grow.”

Brian Turmail, national spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America, said Metro Detroit added construction jobs at a faster rate than all but six of 358 metro areas during the past 12 months

Turmail said his organization is working with Washington officials to put in place pro-growth measures that would contribute to even more construction job gains in the future.

“Thanks to new projects like this arena and the related developments nearby, this area is now one of the fastest growing construction job markets in the country,” Turmail said.

Turmail said the 2,900 new construction jobs were added between March 2016 and March 2017, a 15 percent increase. There are 21,700 people working in construction in Metro Detroit today, up from 18,800 a year ago, he said.

AGC officials said the recent increases in construction employment in Detroit are a significant change from the multi-year construction downturn earlier this decade that eliminated nearly one out of every four construction jobs between March 2008 and March 2010, a loss of 5,100 jobs.

Turmail said nearly one-third of the construction jobs that existed throughout Michigan in 2008 had disappeared by March 2010.

The arena itself has been a source of contention on whether its employed enough Detroit residents. It was reported in October that an estimated half-million dollars in fines were levied on contractors working on the new Red Wings arena because the firms didn’t hire enough residents.

A lack of skilled-trade workers who live in the city has been an ongoing issue for years, said Douglass Diggs, of Heritage Realty Services LLC, a consultant involved in the arena hiring and training last fall.

Numbers provided by AGC indicated nationwide show 224 out of 358 metro areas added new construction jobs between March 2015 and March 2016, including the Grand Rapids-Wyoming and Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills areas.

But 92 metro areas lost construction jobs during the same time period while employment levels were stagnant in another 42 areas, Turmail said.

“Ultimately, our goal is to see even more new construction jobs being created in metro areas throughout the country,” Turmail said. “As unique as Detroit is, we don't want the Motor City to be alone when it comes to adding new construction jobs.”

Darryl Massa, vice president of Granger Construction, said there is a workforce shortage across the state and nation. He added construction is the key to Michigan’s future.

His company is trying to meet increased demand for workers and is holding a construction career days and a skilled-trades conference.

“We are trying to address finding workers and those people who may not want a four-year degree, and we need to put them to work in construction,” Massa said.