Duggan seeks more jobs for Detroiters
Detroit — With major upgrades on the horizon for the city’s roads, parks and water system, Mayor Mike Duggan wants to ensure those projects will be putting more Detroiters to work.
Duggan said he intends to amend an executive order in the coming weeks that will call for contractors and subcontractors on city-funded projects to employ a workforce that’s at least 51 percent Detroit residents. The mandate would broaden a rule already in place for publicly funded construction projects, such as the new Little Caesars Arena, so it applies within city departments as well.
“I want to put Detroiters to work rebuilding Detroit,” Duggan told The Detroit News.
Under the executive order, contractors must pay into a workforce training fund if they fail to meet hiring goals. That’s already played out in the arena project, with firms collectively racking up more than $500,000 in fines. The amendment, said Duggan, would hold city-let contracts to that same standard.
But some area trade and contractor groups, while they commend the effort, say it could be an uphill climb since there’s been a shortage of qualified workers to fill the growing number of jobs in Detroit and elsewhere.
“We have a lot of job opportunities right now, and we need to answer it with some escalated training programs. That’s the missing piece that will actually solve the problem,” said Mike Jackson, executive secretary and treasurer of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights.
Jackson said his group has been in talks with Detroit officials and others about boosting programs to prepare Detroit workers for skilled trade fields.
“There’s a genuine desire on the part of the unions and the contractors to employ Detroit city residents,” said Jackson, of the trade group representing about 14,000 carpenters and millwrights in Michigan. “We think it’s only right to do that when these big projects come in — or whatever projects come in — that Detroit residents have opportunities. We’re all committed to working with the mayor and doing whatever it takes to get Detroit back to work.”
Portia Roberson, who heads the city’s Department of Human Rights, which oversees enforcement of the hiring requirements, said the amendment has been a focus of the mayor and staff is actively working on it.
“We want to look at internal contracts when we hire contractors or subcontractors to do park renovations, road projects or water and sewer line projects,” she said. “It’s a place to get more opportunities to more Detroiters, not just relying on outside (projects).”
The city has about $1.4 billion — primarily in state, federal and bond dollars — dedicated toward capital projects over the next five years. The outlook is detailed in Duggan’s first charter-mandated Capital Agenda, which is framed around Detroit’s recovery out of bankruptcy and the need to rebuild its aging infrastructure to support population growth and neighborhoods.
About $488 million is tied to Detroit Water and Sewerage Department bonding, a November agenda notes.
DWSD Director Gary Brown said the department will spend about $100 million annually the next several years to rebuild water infrastructure and will soon select a project manager to oversee DWSD’s capital improvement plan. That contract, he said, will include provisions for incubators for Detroit-based businesses to help them participate.
Brown supports expanding hiring requirements and plans to start training centers of his own at DWSD, in partnership with unions to prepare the workforce for the jobs.
“DWSD wants to be an anchor institution in the community that helps to solve problems. We’re not just this utility that sends out a bill for service and collects money,” he said. “We want to help solve problems and the problems in Detroit are jobs. We’ll step up to whatever mandates are put in place.”
Earlier this year, contractors building the new Red Wings arena were fined a total of $675,000 for failing to hire enough Detroit residents at the construction site, according to a collection of monthly reports released in October.
The contractors paid a total of $553,000 of the fines, according to the data. The money has gone toward a workforce training fund earmarked for city job training programs, such as Grow Detroit’s Young Talent, an initiative that connected more than 8,000 young people with local employers for jobs this summer.
Roberson said Olympia held job fairs and sessions with contractors and subcontractors for the arena work. The hiring goal was a big one, she’s said, and the contractors are doing what they can to meet the number.
The $627.5 million, 20,000-plus-seat Little Caesars Arena opens next year and is the centerpiece of the planned 50-block entertainment district, called District Detroit.
Olympia, however, surpassed its other goal of awarding at least 30 percent of the construction contracts to Detroit businesses.
In its ongoing work on the arena and surrounding retail and office space, Olympia said its awarded more than $300 million worth of total contracts — nearly 60 percent — to Detroit-based businesses. Nearly $500 million, or more than 90 percent, of contracts have been awarded to Michigan-based companies.
Before Roberson took over the Human Rights Department under the Duggan administration, there hadn’t been compliance on enforcement for about a decade. Duggan, she said, tasked her with making sure development agreements were followed.
The intended amendment, she said, will put the hiring order back in line with its original intent when first enacted by former Mayor Coleman A. Young in the 1980s.
Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez said she wholeheartedly supports efforts to hire more Detroit residents.
“We just need to make sure that the support is not just for the requirement of jobs but also for investment in training programs to train people to be qualified,” she said. “We need to bring this back to our schools to be able to make sure we have a trained skilled workforce to be able to meet the demands.”
Jason Cole, executive director of the Michigan Minority Contractor Association, said contractors often face challenges finding qualified Detroit-based workers. Two contributing obstacles, he said, are the city’s long troubled public school system and steep car insurance rates.
“Until those two major things are fixed, it’s going to continue to be a problem,” he said.