By John Guenther.
The federal agency in charge of handing out money for local infrastructure projects just announced that cities getting federal dollars will be able to prefer hiring local construction workers under a new one-year pilot program.
“For more than 40 years, there have been polices on the books that prevent hiring people in areas they are building,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.
The Secretary, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and two other mayors made the announcement via conference call focusing on the program which allows cities and counties receiving federal infrastructure grants to prefer hiring low-income workers and veterans that actually live in the jurisdictions defined by the local leaders.
Previously, grant program rules did not allow local hiring preference for projects that received federal dollars because of the fear of unfair competition in the selection process for contractors, according to Foxx. In practice, the lowest bidder would always receive the construction contract.
“As soon as you had a dollar of federal money, you couldn’t ask ‘How you going to hire locals?'” said Garcetti, who noted that the City has $36 billion committed to public transportation projects in the L.A. region, including the Crenshaw-to-LAX rail line. Garcetti said “locals” will be defined as construction workers living in L.A. County.
The program will be run through the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration. Foxx said the program would help them learn more about the consequences and challenges of having that local preference in place. In addition to examining how many local hires occur, the program will require applicants quantify how their local contracting would protect the integrity of the competitive bidding process and provide multiple benefits to communities without sacrificing value to the taxpayer.
On the call, the mayors lamented the loss of thousands of construction jobs during the recession and how they haven’t returned for many of those who lost those jobs. Mayor Kasim Reed said the Atlanta metro region had lost 50,000 construction jobs and that the program will help mayors around the country.
“It’s going to be a game changer for region,” said Reed. “One thing that is missed is the average grade level that most folks in the construction industry reach is high school. You have people who don’t have advanced degrees who will be able to support their family…live the American dream.”
Regional business and civc leaders involved in the California Economic Summit identified finding the more and innovative ways to fund local and regional infrastructure in California as a top priority since the Summit began. This rule change will hopefully help local leaders expand their funding and get back to maintaining the backbone of the economy here.