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Construction site diversity needs watchdogs


Eyes are open when it comes to ongoing construction in Rochester. Although none of the current construction is receiving Destination Medical Center funding, questions about diversity requirements for projects receiving state funding are being asked.

"People are watching," said community advocate Jackie Johnson last week during a meeting with local lawmakers. Hosted by the newly renamed Council on Minnesotans of African Heritage, the conversation shifted from equality in grant funding and housing to employment opportunities.

"We haven't seen minorities out there working," Johnson said while discussing the issue at the city-county Government Center, which seems nearly surrounded by construction as Olmsted County courthouse and Mayo Civic Center renovations continue.

Sen. Carla Nelson said the requirement for more diversity in the workforce on state projects remains a goal and is part of new legislation, along with mandates to track related data. "We need to have that data on every project we do," the Rochester Republican said.

Rep. Kim Norton, a Rochester Democrat, said efforts to ensure diverse workforces and inclusion in state grants have been receiving bipartisan support in recent years.

Sen. David Senjem, a Rochester Republican, and Rep. Tina Liebling, a Rochester Democrat, echoed the sentiments. "I can't tell you how many years we've been talking about the same thing," Liebling said.

As lawmakers noted they see more diverse construction crews working on state Capitol renovations and the Minnesota Vikings stadium, some advocates remain skeptical. W.C. Jordan, president of the Rochester branch of the NAACP, noted seeing more minorities on the job site doesn't mean all diversity goals are being met. "It's going to give you more people of color working, but not more contractors," he said.

Jordan's right. Efforts need to go beyond merely putting people to work. They need to make sure investments provide new opportunities.

Kevin Kelleher, Southeast Minnesota business development specialist for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, noted several state programs can provide such opportunities. "Not everyone can be a contractor," he said, also noting state-funded programs can help more minorities step into those roles.

It's those opportunities, along with watchful eyes of the community, that will diversify construction sites and provide opportunities that have been elusive in the past.

Council on Minnesotans of African Heritage members asked lawmakers to continue pushing for diversity, but local legislators noted they need help in making sure their efforts are fruitful. "The Legislature processes laws, but we don't implement them," Liebling said, encouraging those in attendance to be the eyes and ears for lawmakers.

Although the council has limited resources and a limited reach outside the metro area, we note the role of watchdog doesn't need to fall to one group. The Council on Minnesotans of African Heritage and similar groups can fuel efforts, but all residents can participate by watching and encouraging lawmakers to continue diversity efforts.

With $585 million in planned state and local funding headed toward the DMC project, the Rochester City Council has set a goal of seeking related workforce employment of 4 percent minorities and 6 percent women. As a result, residents have the unique opportunity to be watchdogs and ensure publicly funded projects are as diverse as possible.

It won't just happen, encouragement and reminders for public officials will likely be required and watchful eyes will always be needed.

Still, with a little effort, we expect Jackie Johnson will start seeing some changes on downtown construction sites.


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Date: 2015-07-27

Source: Post Bulletin

Type: Comments

Sort Order: 1

State: Public