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Finding -- and filling jobs -- means building relationships

Juan Salgado, president and CEO of Instituto del Progreso Latino (center), makes a point during the national portion of the June 20 Neighborhoods and Labor Markets seminar.

Gordon Walek

Many poor people have a difficult time landing a good job, or any job at all. Sometimes, it's because they live far from businesses with openings. Sometimes, it's because they don't have the skills that employers are seeking.

And, sometimes, as Juan Salgado explained, it's because employers pay low wages, not understanding how adept and knowledgeable their workers need to be.

Salgado was speaking June 20 at the Neighborhoods and Labor Markets seminar, sponsored by the Federal Reserve Banks of Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Minneapolis and San Francisco as well as the Urban Institute, the Institute for Comprehensive Community Development and the Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC).

Deborah Bennett, senior program officer, Polk Bros. Foundation: "How do we address [racial discrimination] when, often, we don't even want to acknowledge that this is a real issue?"

Gordon Walek

The seminar, the first of three scheduled over the next six months, featured a national panel discussion in Chicago, simulcast to six other cities — Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and San Francisco — and then followed by regional discussions in the cities.

See videos of the event here.

"They know they've got a person who is doing a job, but they don't know what the job is," said Salgado, the president and CEO of Instituto del Progreso Latino, a job-training organization in Chicago.

"One of the resources we provide is to come in and help them to build the job description. That really helps them understand the total job. Then, all of a sudden, they'll pay $3 an hour more. Now they can get the right person for that job."

The key to success for an organization working to help people in low-income communities find work, Salgado said, is to build relationships with employers. To work with companies, to bring them added value.

"The sweet spot"

This was a major theme that echoed through the discussions in the seven cities.

In Houston, Rodney Bradshaw, director of the Gulf Coast Workforce Board, said his agency  builds relationships with industries experiencing or expecting above-average growth and wages.

"They start to see us, as a system, as a quality [human resources] provider," he said. "Ideally, we should work as a supplier."

Howard Snyder, executive director of the Northwest Side Community Development Corp. in Milwaukee: "They said, 'We want to hire people from the neighborhood, but we don't know how to do it.' "

Gordon Walek

That's succeeded in Milwaukee, said Howard Snyder, executive director of the Northwest Side Community Development Corp. there.

Defense contractors and subcontractors came to him. "They said, 'We want to hire people from the neighborhood, but we don't know how to do it.' I've found out, being an organizer, that, when someone tells you they don't know how to do something, that's the sweet spot.

"That's exactly where you need to move. It's your opportunity to help somebody do something they can't do."

And to provide openings for neighborhood residents.

But that won't work unless there's talk, unless there's networking, as participants in Pittsburgh and San Francisco noted.

Stephanie Forbes, executive director of Bay Area LISC: "We hear repeatedly that there is a critical lack of dialogue and education in the region..."

Bay Area LISC

"We hear repeatedly that there is a critical lack of dialogue and education in the [San Francisco-Oakland] region among all the sectors involved in trying to move under-employed and unemployed lower-income individuals into jobs," said Stephanie Forbes, executive director of the Bay Area office of LISC.

"Dialogues like this provide an excellent forum for discussing these issues as well as the opportunities, and for thinking about how we can collaborate, locally and regionally and across sectors, to get people the jobs they really need to support their families."

The goal of the seminar series, which draws together researchers and front-line professionals, is to stimulate concrete discussions about the ways that low-income neighborhoods are linked — and can be linked — to the economies of their regions.

A similar seminar in the fall will address the connections between inner-city neighborhoods and regional housing markets. A final seminar in the winter will look at how well or poorly such communities compete as consumer markets in their region.

'Good old neighborhood organizing techniques'

Salgado: "We are a community organization, but, in many ways, we're a networking organization."

Gordon Walek

Workforce groups, Salgado noted, can get a much better sense of the job needs of the future by closely linking themselves to employers.

"If you're networked into these institutions, then you can get an early start," he said. "We don't exactly know where it's going to go. It's kind of like an organism. You're part of an organism."

Jim Capraro, a community development veteran of more than 30 years, said, "What Juan is describing so well is good old neighborhood organizing techniques."

Yet, relationship-building can't be narrowly focused on a neighborhood alone, Salgado added.

"We are a community organization, but, in many ways, we're a networking organization," he said. "We don't just live and breathe in a community. We're working and networking across the region."

'The way employers hire'

There's a problem, though, with working on a regional basis, as participants in several of the cities pointed out.

"The question is not about coming up with regional strategies, " said Jon Commers, a member of the Metropolitan Council, the planning agency for the seven-county Twin Cities region. "It is about identifying which institutions are to be charged with implementation on a regional scale."

Chris Walker, research director for LISC, quoted Henry Kissinger's question: "If I want to call Europe, who do I call?"

If business owners want to call someone for help on a regional basis, who do they call?

That's not a question in the Houston-Galveston area where the Gulf Coast Workforce Board has responsibility for 13 counties, Bradshaw said. Having a regional board gives Houston-Galveston an advantage over other areas in the nation where workforce efforts are run on a city or county basis.

"If we want to attract more and better jobs, we need to build services around the way employers hire," he said. "If you are Shell Oil, you hire from around the region. If the workforce program only served Harris County, and a separate program served Galveston and so on, it would be more difficult for employers to use that system.

"By reducing the administrative barriers, we're getting twice the number of employers using the system as compared with the past."

Spatial mismatch -- or mish-mash?

Mark Elliott, president, Mobility: "Mobility is crucial in a rapidly decentralizing metropolis -- but we were mistaken in the belief that mobility alone would be sufficient to make a significant difference in people's lives."

Gordon Walek

Thirty years ago, social theorists argued that the main reason poor people in cities couldn't find work was their distance from the companies and businesses where the jobs were, often in the suburbs.

But the reality, especially today, is a lot more complex, said Mark Elliott, president of the New York-based Mobility, a non-profit aimed at boosting the economic well-being of low-income people.

In a paper prepared for the seminar and in remarks on the national panel, he noted that efforts to remedy this problem of distance — called "spatial mismatch" — by transporting inner-city residents to suburban jobs didn't succeed. Those who received the help weren't likely to have more jobs or make more money than those who weren't aided.

"This does not mean that mobility is unimportant for urban job seekers," Elliott said. "In fact, mobility is crucial in a rapidly decentralizing metropolis — but we were mistaken in the belief that mobility alone would be sufficient to make a significant difference in people's lives."

(To read Elliott's paper, click here For a report by Walker on job conditions in six metropolitan regions, click here.)

Paul O'Connor, urban strategist, Skimore, Owings & Merrill: "To me, spatial mismatch is a hollow concept."

Gordon Walek

Paul O'Connor, an urban strategist with the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, argued during the Chicago discussion that spatial mismatch, as an idea, has been a distraction.

"To me," he said, "spatial mismatch is a hollow concept. It came out of the race riots of the '60s in LA, Chicago and New York to document two observed facts that have been going on for at least a century — poor people are here, and good jobs are there. It's always the way it is. It's always the way it's been."

In San Francisco, Karen Chapple, associate professor of city and regional planning at the University of California Berkeley, said any problem of spatial mismatch is minor compared to the erosion of jobs the nation has experienced in the past decade.

"We are trying to get back the nine million jobs that we've lost in this country," she said. "The lack of jobs dwarfs any issue of accessibility that we have...We really need to think about this in terms of basic economics first. On the macro level, we're short all of those jobs."

And shipping workers out to the suburbs can be self-defeating for a neighborhood organization -- and its neighborhood -- according to Milwaukee's Snyder.

"I thought if we could grow the neighborhood economy, we would do a lot better than trying to transport people out to the suburbs, especially if they end up living there," he said.

"I don't want people in this community to move out of here. If people want to, that's fine. But I don't want to work for that."

'The best social service program'

Joe Debro, president and CEO of Transbay Engineering and Builders, took part in the discussion in San Francisco.

Bay Area LISC

That makes sense. If you help someone find a good job and she moves out of the neighborhood, that doesn't benefit the people who are still there.

Participants in Minneapolis stressed that residents of low-income communities need help on many levels, such as affordable housing and better education.

But, above all, "the best social service program in the world is a job," said Louis King, president and CEO of Summit Academy Opportunities Industrialization Center in North Minneapolis.

One way of helping that happen is to develop a regional strategy to nurture small businesses. "Lack of capital is a critical issue for small businesses on the North Side [of Minneapolis]," said Robert Woods of Brick Development.

'Those old behaviors'

Also critical — although often hidden today — is the reality of discrimination. Against African-Americans, Latinos, women, immigrants, "outsiders" of all types.

Deborah Bennett, a senior program official for the Polk Bros. Foundation, told of working on a project to fill factory vacancies on Chicago's West Side with residents from that predominately African-American community.

No go.

Bob Giloth, vice president of the Center for Family Economic Success and Community Change at the Annie E. Casey Foundation: "[In tight labor markets], a lot of folks revert back to those old behaviors."

Gordon Walek

"We were completely blind-sided that race would be such a big factor," she said. "Manufacturers on the West Side did not want to hire the African-American applicants...

"How do we address this?...How do we address it when, often, we don't even want to acknowledge that this is a real issue?"

"It is a huge issue," responded Bob Giloth, vice president of the Center for Family Economic Success and Community Change at the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Giloth said studies have shown "consistently that, for one out of five folks coming for a job,...there's some kind of discrimination in the job offer made."

The unfortunate fact, he said, seems to be that, in tight job markets, "a lot of folks revert back to those old behaviors."

--

Also contributing to this report were Jennifer Koperdak, Alice Melendez, Ela Rausch, Katherine Rife and Chris Walker.

Watch the recorded video of the national panel discussion here:

Watch the recorded video of the Chicago regional panel discussion here:

To see more photos from the national panel discussion and the regional conversation in Chicago, click below:

Keywords: Connecting to Markets

Posted in Commercial and Economic Development

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