As the largest public works project in Minnesota’s history, the METRO Green Line Extension (Southwest LRT) project is expected to generate 7,500 jobs and $350 million in payroll. As a result, the Metropolitan Council sees the project as an opportunity for people of color and women to start a new career in the construction trades and for existing companies to expand their business.
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has set ambitious workforce participation goals of 32% people of color and 20% women for the Southwest LRT project. Further, the Council set a goal of 16% of subcontractors working on the line be from disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs).
“I’m excited that we’re being intentional about doing this work,” said Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero, at the first meeting of a special advisory committee convened by her agency and the Council.
The Disadvantaged Business Enterprise & Workforce Advisory Committee is a way for the Council to be transparent with stakeholders and ensure construction contractors are accountable to the larger community. The committee consists of experts in small business and workforce development, as well as representatives of advocacy groups that help job seekers from underemployed communities. The committee will advise the Council and identify potential solutions to concerns raised by stakeholders and advise on DBE and workforce compliance efforts.
Many businesses face barriers to participation
Historically, DBEs have had difficulty competing for contracts on large government construction projects like Southwest LRT due to barriers such as establishing lines of credit, lining up equipment and supply chains, and understanding the process of bidding.
“Eliminating barriers for DBEs should be a dynamic process, however, some of the barriers that exist have become systemic, spanning decades,” said committee member Gilbert Odonkor, who manages construction procurement for Hennepin County. “My objective is to leverage my knowledge and experiences in both the private and public sectors, in addition to the rich experiences of the other committee members, to ensure there is equitable participation on this project by women, people of color and disadvantaged businesses. We can do this by eliminating these barriers layer by layer.”
Building relationships to diversify subcontractor participation
The advisory committee will work directly with the prime contractors to connect them to new subcontractors. This relationship-building provides long-term benefits to the large prime contracting firms by giving them a pipeline of workers and subcontractors. It also helps the small subcontractors by providing them with steady work that allows them to build their experience, staff and assets.
“We know that Southwest will benefit the entire region once it starts running,” said Met Council Chair Nora Slawik. “But it’s important to make sure that the entire region benefits when it’s under construction as well.”
Read about small business programs at the Council