Building community through infrastructure projects

_DSC0761Campaigns to shop and eat locally are inspiring more of us to spend money closer to home. By supporting independent businesses, we create jobs for our neighbors, deepen community roots and strengthen our local economy.

At WTD, we also embrace these values in the way we work with contractors to encourage local hiring and community investment.

On April 6, we hosted a forum at the King County Airport for local contractors and suppliers, and a week later we participated in the Regional Contracting Forum at the Washington State Convention Center.

DSC_0009_2“Events like these are a great way for contractors to know what projects are coming up, to ask questions and to network with larger firms and form project teams,” said capital project supervisor Stan Hummel. “It also helps larger contractors understand the capacity of smaller firms and how they might add value on a specific project.

“We get better outcomes on projects when we provide more information to allow contractors to plan their work,” he added.

WTD Project Manager Mary Beth Gilbrough welcomed the chance to connect with the contractor community at the April 6 contractor forum.

“Once projects are advertised, there’s a ‘cone of silence’ and we’re not allowed to speak directly to prospective bidders,” said Gilbrough. “Usually smaller contractors don’t know what work is available until a solicitation is published. We want to help contractors plan ahead, and we want to get more firms responding to calls for bids or proposals.”

Small Businesses as Big Employers

Small businesses account for 34 percent of local jobs. Yet smaller firms once faced big hurdles when it came to county contracting. The process was overly-complicated, sending bidders into a maze of bureaucracy that was especially overwhelming for new firms.

_DSC0775In 2010, King County rolled out the welcome mat to small businesses through its Contracting Opportunities Program, which is set on expanding the number of contracts awarded to small businesses, contractors and suppliers, with additional consideration for businesses owned by women and minorities.

The new approaches to contracting and project planning that stress equity and social justice are now part of the way we plan our capital projects and structure contracts.

When we build new projects or upgrade current facilities, we look beyond engineering drawings and consider the number of ways our construction spending could be invested back into local communities.

Job Training — the Gateway to a Skilled Workforce

Besides contracting with more small businesses, we also partner with contractors, community colleges and labor unions on job training and apprenticeship programs that offer career pathways in the skilled trades.

We look at all projects for opportunities to include apprenticeships. For some projects, contractors set aside a percentage of labor hours for apprentices in addition to agreeing to voluntary hiring goals for women and people of color.

On our larger projects covered by project labor agreements, such as the Georgetown Wet Weather Treatment Station, we’re using a new King County pilot program called Priority Hire, which requires contractors to train and hire construction workers living in ZIP codes with high levels of poverty and unemployment.

_DSC0773Dan Peterson, an apprenticeship coordinator with the county’s Business Development and Contract Compliance section, said the benefits of these programs are felt by workers, neighborhoods and the hiring firms alike.

“We’re providing contractors with access to a trained workforce and making sure more people have access to opportunities for livable wage jobs,” said Peterson.

_DSC0776Capital projects manager Kathy Loland said the reception to making equity and social justice goals part of the contracting process is overwhelmingly positive from employees and contractors alike. “It’s really exciting to be able to make people aware of what opportunities are available,” she said. “It makes us feel really good about the work we do.

“The contractors are also enthusiastic about it because it deepens their bench for talented workers,” said Loland. “Some contractors even volunteered to step up their hiring diversity and apprenticeship training because they know it’s something we value.”

Investing in Plants, Pipes and People

Over the next two years, WTD is budgeting over $400 million on its major capital program to build new facilities and upgrade existing infrastructure. That spending is expected to create over 900 construction jobs alone, along with several opportunities for contractors and suppliers.

Along with the infrastructure to protect the environment, our investments in job training, local businesses and workforce diversity is another way WTD construction builds strong, healthy communities.

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