Job creation is a top priority in St. Petersburg. Many families are experiencing the effects of the tough economic climate far too often exasperated with an alarmingly high unemployment rate in the community. The City Council is aware of the problem, aware they need to take action, but it doesn’t seem that they are going very far very fast.
On January 26, 2012, the City Council held its Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee meeting, and prioritizing local hiring was a top issue on the agenda. First, giving credit where it is due is important, and Councilmember Karl Nurse was an important component in the history of this small development. Nurse asked City staff to explore the feasibility of a local and first source hiring ordinance to create more local jobs.
Louis Moore, director of Procurement and Supply Management provided a thorough analysis and overview of a proposal for a local hiring priority ordinance. According to Moore, “The objective of a local hiring priority ordinance is to reduce unemployment and underemployment of local residents by establishing local priority hiring goals for major construction projects.”
Moore went on to describe that the City’s current unemployment rate is at 10.01% and at 17% among minority youth. This last statistic is of significant concern on many fronts regarding the compounded social problems unemployment of this population brings, including poverty and homelessness, the need for crime reduction among youth, youth violence, youth substance abuse issues, etc.
While the problem is well-recorded, the solutions are murky at best. This particular solution, arguably in its infancy and only in the development stage, comes with more questions than answers.
Within the next five to seven years, the City is contemplating undertaking two major construction projects, totaling a combined $100 million. These projects include a new public safety complex and a new St. Petersburg Pier.
The proposed “Local and First Source Hiring Ordinance” is intended to create jobs allocated to local residents within city-funded public works projects. The ordinance would mandate that contractors hire local job candidates during the entire contract term and implement apprenticeship programs for employees while working on the contract.
This sounds reasonable and even potentially effective but for a few problems as the idea is currently drafted. First, the Local and First Source Hiring Ordinance would only apply to contracts for major public works or improvement projects in excess of $30 million.
As Councilmember Nurse pointed out, the City rarely has projects under development in excess of $30 million. Therefore, it is likely that while this ordinance proposal is still under development, that number of $30 million will be reduced significantly.
Nurse requested that the committee be provided with a spreadsheet, identifying the costs of other public works or improvement projects to determine what reduction on the $30 million limit would be feasible.
Second, an issue regarding residency is under examination as to how this will be determined, especially in regards to homeless populations. Council Chair Leslie Curran requested that this plan ensure that individuals residing at Safe Harbor and Pinellas Hope have an opportunity to participate and secure emplyment.
Third, Nurse further recommended that the ordinance definition of “local” should be broadened to include a regional approach that would also provide opportunities for homeless individuals and those with a criminal history who often find it difficult to get jobs.
While other strategies are underdevelopment to increase local jobs in St. Petersburg from both the governemnt and through private industries in the City, this one still needs considerable work before anyone will feel good about progress.
Yet, I must report that there are some local job creation practices that have been in place for some time that are demonstrating outcomes of increasing effectiveness. This includes the Small Business Enterprise Program that offeres outstanding resources through the City of St. Petersburg to small businesses and small business development. (Also see the Business Assistance Center as a great City resource.)
It appears that St. Petersburg, again, is on the right track with identifying the problems that are of greatest concern to City residents, but more action is needed more rapidly.
As a community, we are responsible for keeping watch on these developments as they progress and to step up with any solutions to assist the process with whatever resource we may have. As a community, we can work along with our City government to help solve these critical problems and create a stronger St. Petersburg.