As originally published by Ethan Duran for The Daily Reporter.

Construction officials on Friday reported the $456 million Baird Center expansion went above and beyond its goals to involve minority- and women-owned businesses and Milwaukee residents. However, there was still work to be done as workforce goals for women in the workforce arrived under expectations.

When the project started, it had goals to assign 25% of its contracts to minority-owned businesses, 5% to women-owned businesses, and 1% to disabled veteran-owned businesses.

To date, the project engaged 25.3% minority-owned businesses, 16.5% women-owned businesses, and 1% disabled veteran-owned businesses, reported James Methu, the community affairs and inclusion specialist at Gilbane Building Co., to the Wisconsin Center District board.

The project also followed the City of Milwaukee’s Residents Preference Program, which requires contractors bidding on projects partly funded with public tax dollars. Of the 40% goal to recruit workers from economically depressed zip codes, contractors surpassed the goal at 47.9% hires from impacted areas.

Contractors also exceeded their 1% disabled veteran employee goal, achieving 1.2% hires for disabled veterans. The project also went far beyond expectations for minority workforce participation; it reached 42% more than its original 25% goal.

The goal for hiring women was 5%, but hiring was just under at 4.5%.

Alicia Dupies, a vice president at Gilbane, said that goal was hard to hit with the current pool of tradeswomen workers. Many women entered the construction workforce on the project management and engineering side, but there was still a lag among the trades, she added.

Citing a Wisconsin Policy Forum study about construction workforce demographics, Dupies said that four of 17 responding unions reported that 5% of their members are women.

“The pool itself doesn’t support an easy hitting of 5%,” Dupies told the board, noting the highest number of women apprentices recorded entering the workforce was 3.4%.

The four unions with more than 5% women in workforce involved in the project are electricians with 5.62%, painters with 10.79% and heat and frost insulators at 22.91%, Dupies added.

“We’re trying to maximize and tap those unions that do have 5%,” Dupies said. “No unions have 10% members.”

The vice president praised the company’s accomplishment of 48% employment from the city’s most distressed zip codes. Subcontractors involved in the project were “committed to this from day one,” Dupies added.

Marty Brooks, the president and CEO of the district board, credited Gilbane and C.D. Smith Construction for setting “lofty goals” to engage minority- and women-owned businesses.

Methu announced the Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3) pilot program was involved in the Baird Center expansion, which recruited workers from Milwaukee’s north and south sides and upskilled them in the construction trades. The pilot had funding from both Employ Milwaukee and WRTP | BIG STEP, Dupies said.

Gilbane reached out to workers through events such as Building Advantage’s annual Construction Career Fair and performed outreach at places such as Gee’s Clippers on the city’s north side and the Milwaukee Area Technical College on the south side when recruiting for MC3.

Expansion rapidly approaching its completion date with minimal incidents

The interior and exterior construction work of the Baird Center’s northward expansion is 99% complete, said Mike Abrams, the vice president of CAA ICON, the owner’s representative for the Wisconsin Center District.

Crews are making last minute adjustments as the project enters its 30th month, Abrams said. Construction will be substantially completed on March 29, and systems and owner training are scheduled over April.

The average crew size on site each day was 242 workers, which is expected to decrease over Q1 2024 and keep falling over the next couple of months as the project gets closer to completion, Abrams said.

To date, there have been 1.26 million work hours on the Baird Expansion. Abrams said that there will be 1.3 million or 1.4 million by project completion.

There were 1,100 safety inspections performed for all trades, Abrams said. There were two recorded incidents to date; a few years ago a worker in a concrete form crew injured their back and spent some time in the hospital. Two weeks ago, an electrician fell off a short ladder and injured their leg and was taken to the hospital before recovering.

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