Less than half RDA jobs going to Lake, Porter residents

2012-11-20T14:00:00Z 2012-11-21T11:11:41Z Less than half RDA jobs going to Lake, Porter residentsKeith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com
November 20, 2012 2:00 pm  • 

A “Buy Northwest Indiana” report commissioned by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority shows more than half the construction workers employed directly on its projects are not from Lake or Porter counties.

The report was delivered at the RDA's regular meeting at the Purdue Technology Center of Northwest Indiana on Tuesday in front of about two dozen people protesting the lack of jobs for inner-city residents.

“We wind up back at the question of who is doing the work and who is being left out?” said the Rev. Dwight Gardner, president of the Interfaith Federation of Northwest Indiana in front of the RDA board.

Gardner said the information collected by the RDA does not go near far enough because it does not detail how many people are actually being hired from the “most disparaged ZIP codes” in the region's cities.

RDA Executive Director Bill Hanna responded to the delivery of the report by saying it is a starting point. The RDA expects the proportion of Lake and Porter County residents employed on its projects should increase greatly in the upcoming construction season, he said.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Hanna told his board and the protesters.

Hanna also pointed out the report found 161 of 214 companies employed on the projects are based in Northwest Indiana. That means 76.5 percent are based here, despite the fact that prime construction contractors win the jobs through an open bidding process.

In all, 982 mostly construction workers were employed during the past year on projects in Gary, East Chicago, Hammond, Whiting and Porter, where the RDA contributed a total of $114.6 million, according to the report. Of the 982, employers reported 479 workers were from Lake and Porter counties.

Tuesday's report was prepared for the RDA by consulting firm ODS. Both the report and the ensuing discussion on Tuesday were the result of previous meetings between the Interfaith Federation and the RDA, Hanna said.

For more than a year the Interfaith Federation has protested the lack of Gary and East Chicago workers employed on the $166 million Gary/Chicago International Airport expansion. The RDA is contributing $50 million to that project.

At the end of Tuesday's meeting, Gardner and the Rev. Cheryl Rivera, Interfaith Federation's executive director, delivered the names of 151 people who want to work on RDA funded projects. Also included were resumes, qualifications and certifications.

The RDA is funded by $14 million per year in casino money contributed in equal parts by Gary, Hammond, East Chicago and Lake County. Porter County chips in its own $3.5 million from income tax revenue. The state puts in $10 million per year, but that funding will end in 2015 if not renewed by the state.

The “Buy Northwest Indiana” report was delivered on the same day the RDA received the final version of a return-on-investment analysis that will be a key tool in its quest for continued state funding after 2015.

That report shows that for the $211 million the RDA has committed to projects, it has attracted $540 million in direct investments in the projects from other sources.

The report, prepared by consultant Policy Analytics, found RDA projects will have a total cumulative economic impact of $1.1 billion by 2015, representing a return on investment of $5.11 for every $1 in RDA spending.

The RDA has cited figures like those in meetings before and most recently in a video it commissioned, but the full report brings together much more specific information.

In addition, it shows that the Gary airport expansion, shoreline projects and others the RDA has backed have created or supported more than 2,000 jobs in Northwest Indiana.

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