Obama Foundation launches construction workforce training and hiring initiative for presidential center

Keeping It Local

Obama Foundation launches construction workforce training and hiring initiative for presidential center

Construction work on the Obama Presidential Center at Chicago’s Jackson Park has officially begun. (Courtesy Obama Foundation)

With an over four-year federal regulatory review process now firmly in the rearview and a formal groundbreaking slated for fall, further construction particulars of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) are now beginning to emerge. That includes the announcement that the $500 million project in Chicago’s Jackson Park will be built by a workforce drawn heavily from the city’s South and West Sides.

Announced last week by the Obama Foundation, the OPC Construction Workforce Initiative establishes a commitment to creating a workforce in which at least 35 percent of workers hired will hail from “targeted areas” within these two major sections of Chicago with significant Black and brown populations. As part of this commitment, the Foundation has pledged $850,000 to a partnership with local workforce development organizations to train 400 construction apprentices from South and West Side communities such as Englewood, Pullman, Auburn Gresham, Austin, and Woodlawn, which is home to the historic Jackson Park. Many of the South and West Side communities targeted in the OPC Construction Workforce Initiative are also part of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $750 million INVEST South/West neighborhood improvement initiative.

It’s anticipated that a total of 5,000 direct, indirect, and induced jobs will be generated by the OPC during and after construction of the Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects-designed complex, which is expected to take four years.

The Foundation also announced it will “support diverse subcontractors” as part of the three-tenet OPC Construction Workforce Initiative and “make it easier for them to compete in bidding for the project,” according to a press release. Fifty percent of subcontractor packages will be awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses. This far surpasses the city’s goal of 26 percent MBE and 6 percent WBE for construction project vendors. Lakeside Alliance, a joint venture comprised of the four largest Black-owned construction companies in Chicago, was previously named as the general contractor for the project.

“We need to work toward a day where the people building Chicago look like the people who live in Chicago,” said the Obama Foundation’s chief engagement officer, Michael Strautmanis, in a statement. “We’re trying to create something lasting with this initiative—something that goes beyond building the OPC to include the development of a program that will place local community members on construction jobs across the city well into the future.”

In order to create a construction workforce that pulls from targeted, underserved geographic areas of the city and establish a large and diverse team of subcontractors, the Foundation has identified the barriers typically faced within the industry along with steps to ease them. These steps will include ranking diversity and inclusion at an equal or higher level than other key criteria, like cost, during the bid selection process; breaking up bidding contacts into more than 160 individual bid packages to help expand opportunities, particularly for small businesses often left out of projects of this size and scope; and creating a fund that will lend financial assistance to low-income workforce members so that necessities like transportation and child care costs, tools, union fees, and other expenses are covered via a stipend program.

Virtual job training sessions, hosted in partnership with Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT), HIRE360, IBEW-NECA Technical Institute, Revolution Workshop, and St. Paul’s Community Development Ministries, will be held in the coming months in order to “ recruit new tradespeople, address their barriers to entry, work with labor unions to assign them to apprenticeships, and place them on projects across the city,” according to the Foundation.

Perspective vendors and construction workers can submit information/apply for jobs directly through the Obama Foundation website. In addition to the announcement of the OPC Construction Workforce Initiative, the Foundation also revealed earlier this month that a 2015 quote from Barack Obama from the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery protest marches will appear on the exterior of the Obama Presidential Center Museum tower.