GARY | A debate on who will get any new jobs generated at Gary/Chicago International Airport continued Wednesday night at a public forum on the public-private partnership agreement recently forged there.
"We as citizens of Gary should reap some benefits from that," said Charlene Mahoney, of Gary, at the forum at the Marquette Pavilion. "I hate to see we have this thick plan going and the people of Gary will not be able to participate."
Mahone and a number of members of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations were concerned about the partnership agreement's lack of specific goals for hiring workers from Gary and nearby distressed communities.
Bo Kemp, a member of the committee that forged the agreements, said they in fact contain robust requirements for hiring firms owned by disadvantaged groups, including minorities, women and veterans.
But he acknowledged when it comes to hiring individual disadvantaged workers, other tools will have to be used.
"It's clear what we are trying to achieve is jobs for Gary citizens," Kemp said.
Annual plans for the airport that must be presented by the private companies now operating it must be approved by the Airport Authority, giving it the ability to set hiring goals for projects, Kemp said.
Ruth Needleman, a prominent critic of the deal, pointed out having 30 percent of subcontracts awarded to local firms as called for in the agreement does not mean those firms will in turn hire local residents.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson at the end of the forum told audience members they were right that it can't be assumed local employers will hire local people. She said steps will be taken to ensure that there will be employment for local residents at the airport, including sanctions for employers that fail to do so.
"Our job and our challenge is to not assume and not count on the good faith of local employers," she said.
Under the public-private partnership deal, Aviation Facilities Company Inc. of Dulles, Va., has the exclusive right to develop real estate on and around the airport for the next 40 years. Its AvPorts subsidiary has a 10-year contract to run the airport.
By next year, AFCO must provide the Airport Authority with plans for attracting a total of $100 million in investment by the year 2054.
Gary Councilwoman Mildred Shannon, D-1st District, who hosted the forum, said she supports the public-private partnership, but she understands why people are wary.
"What's happened in the past here in Gary, we've been promised many things but the promises have not been kept," Shannon said.