By TIM ROWDEN
A recently announced Community Workforce Agreement with the St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council, ensuring that nearly 40 percent of all labor hours on construction of a new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency facility will go to minorities, could be the lynchpin in securing a site location in North St. Louis.
NGA handles computer mapping support for defense agencies. The agency needs a new facility to replace its current location in south St. Louis, where it employs about 3,100 well-paid workers.
Officials in Missouri and Illinois are vying for the the $1.75 billion project.
Four sites are under consideration:
- North St. Louis;
- St. Clair County adjacent to Scott Air Force Base;
- The former Chrysler location in Fenton;
- And the Metropolitan Life office complex on Tesson Ferry Road in Mehlville.
Of the four, only North St. Louis and St. Clair County appear to be in serious contention. St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger sent a letter to NGA Director Robert Cardillo on Sept. 4 expressing his “unconditional support” for the North City location.
* Content continues below advertisement.
In the Community Workforce Agreement, the St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council has proposed at least 37.81 percent of all labor hours on the facility would go to minorities, which more than doubles the 17 percent inclusion goals set forth in federal guidelines.
The Council proposed that at least 23.28 percent of all labor hours would go to St. Louis city residents, and 6.9 percent of all labor hours would go to women.
Finally, the Council has committed to an expansion of its Building Union Diversity program, which provides opportunities for minorities and women, as well as existing journeymen, to become apprentices with participating unions so that they can learn the skills needed to be employable for the rest of their lives. City residents and people living in designated Promise Zones within the region would receive priority status.
“We believe that these goals will help address some of the issues and challenges raised by the Ferguson Commission, the East-West Gateway Council of Governments’ report on racial disparities, the Office of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and the Governor’s Office of Equal Opportunity,” Building Trades Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Aboussie said.
“It is our goal to build the skills and capabilities of minority and women workers, who will be trained to work on this project. And when this project is completed, they will have the skills and training to go to work on the next project, and so on.”
U.S. Senator Roy Blunt said the Building Trades’ innovative plan will help the federal government support the goals of the Promise Zone.
President Barack Obama created the Promise Zone program in 2014. The federal government also has a policy dating back to the Carter administration giving government preference to locating facilities in challenged urban areas.
Blunt said he discussed Aboussie’s letter with Cardillo, and said the director told him “This makes a difference.”
Blunt said the agreement represents “a significant commitment of what our building and construction trades are prepared to do. All those things really matter.”
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said: “We have focused on what can we do as a region. This just shows the strength of what we have and our preparation to continue to be great partners with the leading intelligence agency in the world.”
Cardillo is expected to announce the new site for NGA West by April 1.
The City of St. Louis, led by Mayor Francis Slay, had planned on selling a 99-acre swath north of downtown to the government for around $14 million for the project. But the City last week announced plans to provide the land to the spy agency for free. The city has mortgaged two city buildings to free up $13 million to buy and assemble properties to showcase to the spy agency.
Illinois officials want the NGA to move to undeveloped farmland in St. Clair County near Scott Air Force Base and is also offering no-cost land for the project. The Illinois contingent is offering $115 million in infrastructure improvements around the site, in addition to $54 million already being spent to build new roads to connect the NGA with Scott Air Force Base, one of the region’s largest employers.
See related story: Illinois officials show rare united front in bid to win NGA job
Missouri has committed $131 million to the project, including: $95 million in tax increment financing, and $36 million in Brownfield Tax Credits. St. Louis has committed $1.5 million to the project over the next 30 years. The overall Missouri commitment will cover:
- Site acquisition, preparation, and utility relocation and improvements;
- A full highway interchange at Jefferson Avenue and I-64/Hwy 40;
- Enhancements to N. Jefferson and Cass Avenues;
- Delivering the land to the NGA at no cost.
The City of St. Louis is also working with Metro to adjust its current and planned rail and bus networks to connect NGA to the transit system.
The Community Workforce Agreement may be the last piece of the puzzle.
Slay said the agreement with the Building Trades is “tremendously important.”
“I think that what they’ve demonstrated is that we are prepared to have a workforce that does this job that better reflects our regional community as a whole,” Slay said. “Particularly considering the fact that we’re in an area that’s seen a lot of economic stress, and economic disinvestment – particularly from the private side – to not only make sure we get investment that that neighborhood hasn’t seen in a long time but also to make sure that we get a local diversified workforce.”
Missouri House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, a member of IBEW Local 1 and secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO, called the agreement “transformative.”
“I think anytime that we double the participation goals that the federal government requires, it only enhances our ability to present out case that St. Louis is a Promise Zone according to the federal government and that we’re going leaps and bounds over what they’re asking for in order to revitalizes a portion of St. Louis that has historically been left to suffer.”
Regardless of where the new facility is located, building trades union members in St. Louis and the Metro East stand to gain new jobs building the facility.