Bill Loomis| Crain’s Custom Media
The politics tied to building a new arena for the Detroit Red Wings might have been resolved, but the talent challenges have yet to start.
Under an agreement approved by the Detroit City Council in May, 51 percent of the employees working on the project must come from the city. And construction firms that fall short of the hiring goal can pay a fee or make good by offering free training and by providing instructors and equipment.
This clause was part of the land transfer of some city property within a 54-block footprint to Ilitch Holdings Inc., owner of the Red Wings.
Getting more Detroit residents into the construction trades is important not only for the hiring goal but also to strengthen the industry for years to come, said Alex Ivanikiw senior vice president with Barton Malow Co., one of the three construction firms hired by Olympia Entertainment — the entertainment subsidiary of Ilitch Holdings — to build the arena.
“I think it’s a necessary goal both for the city of Detroit as well as for the construction industry,” he said. “Here in Southeast Michigan, we are very close to reaching full utilization of all union trades.”
Building-trade unions have about 35,000 members in Southeast Michigan, of which about 2,000 live in the city of Detroit.
So, with an estimated 5,500 jobs needed for the project — and nearly 2,800 needing to come from Detroit — there will be high demand for those positions.
The arena work has an added benefit as a training ground for workers to tackle other big jobs on the horizon, including the city’s blight removal blitz, M-1 Rail and the planned New International Trade Crossing bridge project slated to span the river between Detroit and Windsor.
The residential requirement aside, just finding enough laborers, carpenters, electricians, pipe fitters and other union trade workers for all the jobs could present its own challenge.
“The average age is approaching 50 for an industry that typically is a young man’s industry,” Ivanikiw said.
When city residents enter a building trade and start to earn a decent wage, they often move to the suburbs, said Pamela Moore, president and CEO of the city’s nonprofit workforce development agency, Detroit Employment Solutions Corp.
“You may start off in the city as an apprentice, and once you get to be a journeyman and you start making a nice wage, you leave,” she said.
To counteract that phenomenon, she said, “Mayor Mike Duggan‘s administration has begun to think about offering low-interest loans on city-owned houses or other incentives to keep newly trained construction workers in the city.”