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Minority-Women Firms Boosted By Casino Construction
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Owners of the Hollywood Casino have set an aggressive goal for diversity in construction hiring. The company said it wants about 25 percent of its building contracts to go to minority or women owned businesses.
Shovels are in the ground at the Casino construction site on West Broad Street and Georgesville Road. The $350 million structure is underway bringing what is estimated to be 3,500 construction jobs. With high unemployment and a weak housing construction market, firms are in strong competition for a share of the contracts. As part of its focus on economic development, the Columbus NAACP reached an unofficial agreement with the casino’s owner Penn National Gaming Incorporated to reach 25 percent of minority and women owned contractors to work on the project.
“We feel that’s it’s important that the Casino reflect the community, and you know Columbus is a community with a very strong minority population and many very good minority contractors and vendors who we want to see involved in the project,” said company spokesman Bob Tenenbaum.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, minorities make up more than 37 percent of the Columbus population. In Franklin County, women are 51 percent of the population. To attract more minorities, contractors and suppliers have been meeting throughout the past several months with the primary contractor Smoot Construction Company and bidding for work on the project. Owner of McDaniel’s Construction, Dan Moncrief got a $5 million contract for excavation and underground utility work. He said 20 of his employees are on the job now.
“This project actually allows me to bring over half of my traditional yearly workforce plus it also allows me to put that equipment to work that would normally been sitting in the yard,” Moncrief said.
Moncrief is optimistic Penn National can meet its goal of 25 percent minority-owned firms building the casino. Noel Williams, Columbus NAACP president, agreed the goal can be met.
“There are many minority companies that are able to bid on their own, that are able to stand alone,” Williams said.
Williams said that other local projects have also had minority participation goals, but not as large as 25 percent. She points out the highest percentage was about 17 percent in a Nationwide-related project. The Hilton Hotel downtown project under construction has about 15 percent minority and women owned firms involved.
“It is about economic development, building minority business, minority contractors as well as creating jobs,” Williams said.
Susan Ernst president of Royal Electric and Technologies, said her sub-contracting company that specializes in low voltage electrical work has secured an agreement on the casino.
“It has come at a good time, and by that I mean this whole year, because the last two years were very bad for us in the marketplace,” Ernst said.
Ernst said her company is affiliated with a union, something that Penn National stated is considered but not mandated when selecting contractors. However, Kim Asamoah Ansah, director of the Minority Business Assistance Center, said a union requirement can hinder some enterprises interested in the casino construction.
“We’re very disappointed because again it eliminates the vast majority of the contractors that actually have the capacity to bid on that particular project. The union, the companies that are union versus nonunion has no impact on their capacity or their ability to actually do a job effectively and efficiently,” Asamoah Ansah said.
Susan Ernst president of Royal Electric and Technologies, said she appreciates the efforts made by Penn National.
“In the past there hasn’t been that big push for diversity,” Ernst said.
Ernst added that her company, with two employees on the job today, could have up to 10 next year working on fire alarms, and security measures for the West Side casino.