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Stadium could benefit those hardest hit by poverty, unemployment

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Stadium concept
The Minnesota Vikings released this concept of a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis, April, 2, 2012. This illustration show non-game day activity and the proposed Winter Garden light rail train station.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings say a new stadium will save the football franchise, but the project's benefits are also being aimed squarely at some parts of Minneapolis hit hardest by poverty and unemployment.

Nowhere is the promise of more work more anticipated than in north Minneapolis, where a vocational training program is already gearing up to send workers to the stadium job site.

Shawn Wright is a man who knows the value of that program at Summit Academy OIC. You've likely seen his work.

"This is my pride and joy here. This is the bull's-eye at Target Field," Wright said pointing at a giant red and white logo at the Minnesota Twins' ballpark on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. "I had an opportunity before the stadium opened to put the bull's eye up."

Wright is a construction worker and lives in north Minneapolis. He doesn't have a job right now, but he was on the crew that installed many of the signs at the baseball stadium, including the iconic logo behind home plate.

He was only on the payroll for about five months of the two-and-a-half years it took to build Target Field. But the park was as big a deal to Wright as it was to the Twins. He had lost a job on an assembly line and then went into almost six months of vocational training.

"The only skills I had with construction was like building clubhouses, or middle school — did some wood shop," Wright said. "It was definitely something I didn't have any experience in."

Shawn Wright installed Target Field's bull's eye
Shawn Wright is an unemployed construction worker who lives in north Minneapolis. His first work after a job training program was at Target Field, where he installed the signature bull's eye symbol behind home plate. He hopes he'll find more work and gain work experience building a new Vikings stadium. MPR News photo/Tim Nelson
MPR News/Tim Nelson

Target Field was Wright's first construction job and it nearly doubled his pay. It led to more work, including roofing and structural repairs after last year's tornado. Now, Wright is training for a hazardous materials certification and even higher paying work. He expects to help build the Vikings new home downtown.

And he is not the only one.

Elected officials, business owners and civic leaders hope a new NFL stadium will be a one-way ticket for Minnesotans hit hardest by the recession, like the 22 percent of black workers who were counted as unemployed by the state as recently as last year. That was nearly three-times Minnesota's overall unemployment rate.

There may be nowhere that unemployment was as keenly felt as in north Minneapolis, where the city reported jobs disappeared during the recession at more than twice the rate as the rest of the city.

In response, the stadium legislation specifically incorporated the city's own 32 percent minority and women hiring goals for real estate development projects. The legislation also gives hiring priority for Minneapolis ZIP codes with the highest unemployment and poverty rates.

The city has not listed those ZIP codes yet. But north Minneapolis city councilmember Don Samuels said the employment prospect for his constituents is why he voted for the stadium, even if the primary beneficiary was a wealthy New Jersey real estate developer.

"We've got African-American young people who are not getting jobs with a high school education, because their industries are gone," Samuels said. "We're going to get them some jobs, and they're going to have careers. And they're going to move up with their families."

Of the stadium, Summit Academy OIC founder Louis King says, "It's the biggest thing to come along in our lifetime."

"It comes along at a time when we're recognizing how big the problem is in north Minneapolis. People like Mayor [R.T.] Rybak, [DFL Rep.] Bobby Joe Champion, took extreme political risks to bring this project home," King said.

"Now, everyone must get behind them to ensure that there's equity of opportunity, that there's investment, that the rules are followed and enforced. That the populace is ready."

King's school is expected to put more than 250 people through its training program this year, working on basic construction techniques, blueprint reading and heavy equipment operation, among other skills. Ties with construction firms and unions help funnel graduates into the workforce and projects like Target Field and Target Center.

"The average person coming in earned $3,000 in the previous period. Our construction workers get about $20, $30, $35 thousand," King said. "We have about a 75-percent placement rate."

However, previous goals like those set for the stadium have not always delivered. In the past, the state of Minnesota had set aside work for minorities and women, but would come under federal investigation for not measuring up on projects, such as the rebuild of Interstate 494 and the Hiawatha light rail line.

Even supporters say the jobs will not get filled and contracts won't be awarded if the workers and businesses can't meet the need. Even as the stadium was debated at the Capitol, critics charged that building the new field is a short-term and expensive jobs program.

But Michael McHugh believes the benefits could go beyond the stadium project itself. McHugh is a member of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission and a former director of the upper Midwest chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors.

Big vertical construction projects offer one-of-a-kind opportunity, because of their accessibility and the variety of skills and positions they require, McHugh said.

"The stadiums and larger projects really open a lot of doors for women and minority workforce," he said.

Even so, it will likely be next spring before workers start punching in to build a new Vikings stadium.