MnDOT hiring of minority contractors declines again

The flow of stimulus dollars to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, MnDOT, has not resulted in more jobs for women and minority workers.

In fact, new MnDOT statistics show the number of minorities and women on state road and bridge construction projects has declined from last year.

Federal rules require that states report the number of minority workers on projects where federal dollars are used. A MnDOT survey of contractors in late July shows the companies employed 114 people of color, down from 159 last year.

The minority workers were just over 6 percent of the people employed, while minorities make up about 12 percent of Minnesota's population.

The numbers are the focus of criticism by a range of advocacy groups. They're lobobying MnDOT officials to remedy years of minority and women hiring performance that has fallen far below the state agency's own goal.

MnDOT's Bernie Arseneau says the agency is work with community groups on solutions.

"Increase the pool of qualified workers and DBE's [disadvantaged business enterprises]," said Arseneau. "And we need to work together to figure out how to make certain that those entities, those contractors and those peoples have a way to get at the work that is actually occuring."

The number of individual minority craft and construction workers hired by contractors doing business with MnDOT has declined for the past four years.

On another front, contractors doing business with MnDOT have also fallen short on goals for hiring Disadvantaged Business Enterprises -- which are businesses owned by minorities and women -- as contractors or subcontractors.

The agency's goal this year of directing 15 percent of the value of contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses came in at just over half that amount.

It caused MnDOT officials to announce recently they're reducing that goal by nearly half for next year, to just over 8 percent.

At the same time, the agency announced it is seeking outside help to improve its minority hiring practices. MnDOT is paying St. Paul facilitator Barbara Raye to meet with agency officials and its critics to develop a new strategy.

Louis King, the executive director of the Minneapolis-based Summit Academy, a construction trades training program, says he doubts the current MnDOT leadership is able to make the changes needed to improve the agency's performance.

"It's going to take more than a facilitator to move this process. We need new leadership," said King. "It begins at the top -- at the top they appoint the commissioners. It's the democratic process I'm counting on."

The decline in minority hiring by MnDOT contractors comes as state officials report an increase in the number of jobs created by federal stimulus dollars.