Detroit hires fall short for arena construction

Candice Williams

During the construction of Little Caesars Arena, an average of 25 percent of hours by skilled-trades workers were Detroit residents. That’s less than half the city’s rule requiring 51 percent of hours on publicly funded construction projects be worked by people who live in Detroit.

Dozens of contractors had paid a total of $5.2 million in fines for not meeting the target through October 2017, the latest figures that were released Tuesday by the city; that’s up from the $2.9 million paid by March 2017.

The average of 25 percent of total hours worked by Detroit residents through October was actually lower than the 27 percent reported through March 2017.

In October alone, the city slapped 44 contractors with fines ranging from $51,169.05 for an electrical contractor to $9.63 for a painting contractor. Several large contractors have multiple units working at the site.

The $862.9 million Little Caesars Arena complex opened its doors in September. The home of the Red Wings and Pistons is city-owned, but managed and operated by Olympia Entertainment, a part of Ilitch Holdings Inc.

Several projects fall under the executive order requiring majority employment of Detroit construction workers, including the Flex-N-Gate development on the city’s east side, the Henry Ford-Detroit Pistons Performance Center and the Third and Grand apartment complex in the New Center area.

Portia Roberson, director of the city’s Office of Human Rights, said the biggest advantage her office has seen from the compliance data is that they get a sense of workforce needs.

“The biggest thing we heard when we first started doing compliance is ‘There’s not enough Detroiters.’ ‘There’s not enough Detroiters in the skilled trades.’ ‘We can never make the numbers that we need to make because we don’t have anybody to do those jobs.’

“It became important to the mayor, to the administration that we didn’t just become a fee-collecting sort of office and that in fact we were using the data that we were receiving in terms of where’s the shortfall,” Roberson continued.

Most of the fines the city has collected have gone to fund training programs to address the skilled-trades shortage.

Of the $5.2 million collected, $2.9 million has gone to workforce development, officials said. For fiscal year 2018, the department has been allotted an additional $2.5 million.

Available training includes skilled trades and construction training programs at Randolph Career and Technical Center. The building’s revitalization unveiled in August was made possible through $10 million in funding and in-kind contributions.

The greatest need for Detroit workers is for electricians, said Jeff Donofrio, executive director of the city’s workforce development office. Other areas of low compliance were found among steel workers and plumbers.

“We’re trying to build the pipeline of individuals going into the trades, going into construction, taking advantage of these job opportunities,” Donofrio said. “Sometimes that might be entry-level construction opportunities, sometimes that will be an actual pathway to journeyman and a very long-term career in construction.”

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