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Infrastructure investments, diversity goals and accountability

As the largest public works project in MN history, the $1 billion Central Corridor Light Rail Transit (CCLRT) project has been under scrutiny by community advocates and policymakers worried that contractors might fail to deliver promised jobs to people of color. The CCLRT bring jobs opportunities to underemployed communities – in the construction of the rail itself, in the connection to other jobs the train will bring, and in the growth and regeneration of business life along the corridor once the trains are up and running. As a recipient of federal transportation funds, the Metropolitan Council was required to set goals to ensure minority participation in CCLRT contracts: 15% of contract dollars for Disadvantage Business Enterprise (DBE). The project is further beholden to state and city public construction hiring goals: 18% minority and 6% female workforce hours for all contracts. Initially, CCLRT contractors lagged in meeting their DBE and diversity hiring targets. But through persistent public pressure from HIRE Minnesota, the District Councils Collaborative, and other community stakeholders, the firms involved in the project improved their efforts and are now meeting procurement and hiring goals.

Efforts have advanced to build on the anchor institutions along the corridor – the medical facilities and higher education campuses that are ‘place-specific’ and represent significant opportunities for hiring directly. The CCLRT route features more than a dozen of these “Eds and Meds” on or near the line between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. These anchor institutions collectively account for over 67,000 jobs and 115,000 students, with 100 capital projects valued at an estimated $5 billion underway or planned. In addition, anchor institutions are being encouraged to intentionally choose local suppliers for food service, window washing, and related services, and local jobseekers are being assessed for skills and interests related to those segments and directed to anchor suppliers.

As other public infrastructure projects move forward in the Twin Cities, including additional light rail corridors that pass through diverse neighborhoods, it will be essential to ensure that they provide good job opportunities for local residents of color. As the recipient of substantial public funding, and a provider of good jobs that don’t necessarily require advanced degrees, the construction industry and infrastructure projects tend to be the focus of DBE and targeting hiring programs. However, we can and should apply similar standards to job creation and employment equity for any industry receiving significant public dollars.

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