ST. PETERSBURG - Construction firms that win big city construction jobs will get a financial incentive to hire locally through a new program intended to reduce local unemployment.
Under the Construction Incentive Program, companies awarded city of St. Petersburg construction contracts will be paid faster if at least 30 percent of employees who work on the project come from Pinellas County. To qualify for the incentive, roughly one quarter of local workers hired would have to be so-called disadvantaged workers such as the long-term unemployed or those with a criminal record.
City Council Chairmman Karl Nurse, who pushed the proposal, said he hopes it will help lower the city's unemployment rate, which is above 7.5 percent. The city council must still give final approval. The incentive solution was proposed by construction companies who did not want to be burdened with mandatory hiring quotas that the city originally considered. Details of the program were devised in workshops with construction owners, city staff and members of Faith and Action for Strength Together, an interfaith coalition that works on social justice issues.
"The good news is we've come out of this with everybody agreeing this is significant progress combined with very modest bureaucracy," said City Council Chairman Karl Nurse. "That's a tough combination."
Typically, the city holds back between 5 and 10 percent of payments to companies to guarantee that they complete all final touches on a project. On a $2 million project that can add up to $100,000, which can be a hardship for smaller contractors that need to pay workers and buy materials.
"This is done with incentives as opposed to mandates," said Jason Spears, whose family owns a local construction firm. "That's how business gets done in a healthy manner."
Companies that apply for the incentive would be required to submit affadavits with the names of local workers at intervals throughout construction. City officials would use a database maintained by WorkNet Pinellas to crosscheck the names.
Despite giving their approval, city council members said they want incentives to be available to companies who hire local people into apprenticeships. Mike Connors, public works administrator, said that would reward companies for workers already in their employ.
"It's about creating careers and opportunities," said Council Member Wengay Newton.
He was supported by leaders of the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who said the city should use its contracts to encourage the creation of permanent jobs and training for local residents rather than sporadic employment.