Stadium builders say Black inclusion ‘off to a good start’

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The new University of Minnesota on-campus football stadium currently is in its third phase, the construction of the stadium itself and three minor adjacent parking areas. On the edge of downtown Minneapolis, the concrete foundation of the new Minnesota Twins baseball ballpark is being poured. According to officials, both projects are on schedule toward their projected opening dates.

Promises were made two years ago of Black inclusion in the stadium projects, with a combined cost of around $1 billion (“Who will share $1 billion-plus in stadium construction?” MSR, June 29, 2006).

According to M.A. Mortenson, the general contractor on both the Twins and Gophers stadiums, the firm is committed to Black inclusion in all construction phases.

The Gophers stadium workforce goals are 10 percent skilled persons of color, 15 percent unskilled, five percent female and one percent disabled.

“Thirty-five percent of the hours worked on the [Gophers stadium] project were minority workers; three percent [were] female, and two percent disabled,” claimed Mortenson’s Community Affairs Director Lynn Littlejohn. “We are above the minority goal, a little below the female goal, and exceeding the disabled goal. We actually are feeling very good about where we are sitting in regards to workforce diversity, given the scope of work performed so far.”

However, follow-up calls to Littlejohn and other project officials for a more detailed breakdown of the numbers of Blacks and other persons of color were not returned at press time.

The MSR received a copy of the April 2007 agreement signed by Mortenson, Hennepin County, the Minnesota Ballpark Authority (MBA) and the Twins to establish workforce goals: 25 percent minority and five percent female. However, according to officials, the only work performed so far has been done by persons with experience handling large equipment, among whom Blacks are few in numbers.

“It is difficult getting a lot of diversity on the crews,” admitted Littlejohn.

MBA Executive Director Dan Kenney also confirmed this, adding that he expects more Blacks and other persons of color to be working on the site once the stadium foundation is laid. “Once we get beyond the foundation phase [this spring], the participation numbers will go up,” Kenney predicted.

Summit Academy Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) President Louis King believes that Black participation in the Twins stadium construction workforce could be better. “Everybody understands that this [level of participation] is unacceptable,” he said. “We have been assured by [Mortenson] President Ken Sorenson that they will improve [Black] participation, and we are working with them to develop a plan over the next few months that will assure that this will happen.”

An addendum to the agreement also calls for Mortenson to work with Summit Academy OIC in providing construction training for persons of color to work on the stadium site. “We are actively working with Mortenson,” said King of the 20-week training program.

To qualify for the program, an individual needs a high school diploma or GED and needs to pass an entrance exam. After completion, a person can make an average of $16.83 an hour, or $33,000 a year, added King.

“If [Blacks] don’t show up for [the program], then other folks are going to get the jobs,” King pointed out.

Both stadium projects have established subcontracting goals as well: Mortenson’s “Targeted Business” program calls for 10 percent minority-owned business and 12 percent woman-owned business for the Gophers football stadium site. Similar goals were set for the Twins ballpark.

Small, minority- and women-owned businesses are defined as follows:

A “Minority Business Enterprise” is a minority-owned, independent business, 51 percent of which is owned and controlled by one or more minority individuals, or if publicly owned, at least 51 percent of the stock is owned and controlled by one or more minorities.

A “Women Business Enterprise” means a woman-owned business that is at least 51 percent owned and controlled by one or more women, or in the case of a publicly owned business, 51 percent of its stock is owned and controlled by one or more women.

A “Small Business Enterprise” is an independent, for-profit business that is certified by the Hennepin County Central Certification Program.

On the U of M project, Littlejohn said, “We are currently at 29 percent in regards to women- and minority-owned firms,” adding that most likely this percentage will not change.

“It is absolutely critical that we get broad community participation,” said Kenney of the Twins stadium. Including its infrastructure, the Twins’ new ballpark will cost $522 million. The Gophers’ football stadium will cost $288.5 million.

The combined $810.5 million is an “economic engine” for the Black community and other communities of color, King pointed out. Along with the proposed Interstate 35W bridge project, “[The three projects] equal $67 million for the minority community,” he continued. “That’s a promise made because they are using public dollars.”

As a result, the Black community must hold all those in charge of these projects — public officials, team officials and Mortenson — accountable, said King.

“A premium was placed on minority and women-owned businesses,” said U of M Associate Athletics Director Phil Esten. The school’s business and community economic development office is in charge of monitoring how all stated goals are being met. “We have inclusion [of both persons of color and women],” said Project Manager Sharon Banks.

“[The Twins] strongly supports [Blacks and persons of color participation],” said Minnesota Twins President Jerry Bell. “We are monitoring it every month.”

Littlejohn said that her firm is working with both Summit Academy on their community workforce program to find more persons of color “with limited or no experience” in the construction industry, she explained. “We are primarily talking about women and persons of color,” Littlejohn added. “We’ve had five individuals work on the [Gophers stadium] job site from that program, four males and one female.”

She admitted, “In regards to workforce, we have a long way to go. [But] we think it is a very good start.”

When asked if a 25-percent persons-of-color workforce is fair, King said. “When you look at the percentages of African Americans in Minneapolis or in Minnesota, we are not 25 percent. I think 25 percent is a very fair and aggressive goal. If we bring $60 million to this community, they will build statues because it is not charity. It’s work.”

What’s most important is that Blacks and other persons of color are qualified and get hired at the two stadium construction work sites, King concluded. “We should focus on filling the goal rather than demanding that people meet the goal,” he said. “If there are enough of us in line, and are qualified, they cannot deny us.”

No breakdown by ethnicity

Shortly before going to press, we received a messaged from Lynn Littlejohn, Mortenson’s community affairs director, who said she had been out of town and unable to respond sooner to our request for more specific information on ”minority” business — how much work has gone or will go to African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans.

”The goal is cumulative minority goals and is not broken down by ethnicity,” Littlejohn said. ”We are not tracking it that way.”

For more information on the Summit Academy OIC construction training program, call Greg Van Leer at 612-377-0150.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com, or read his blog, www.challman.blogspot.com.

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