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Redefining the Art of the Infrastructure Deal

Mar 7, 2018 8 MIN. READ

With the redevelopment of Port Covington, the City of Baltimore has raised the bar for workforce development. 

The South Baltimore skyline overlooks a rippling waterfront, with a harbor that once came under heavy British siege during the American Revolution in September 1814. Following 25 hours of continuous bombing at Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key penned the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the sky lit up.

Today, Maryland native Kevin Plank has set his enterprising vision for the Port Covington development along the same harbor. For him, and many locals, the flag still waves on Baltimore’s front porch. Through his Sagamore Development Company, the Under Armour CEO aims to transform what is now mostly vacant, unproductive land into a new gateway seen by 42 million cars a year passing by on I-95, and showing an “authentic American city on the rise.”

The proverbial city porch serves as an example of the need to extend workforce opportunities under the recent $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan from the White House. Since state and local governments are expected to leverage the private sector in modernizing bridges, ports, and highways, project stakeholders have begun to negotiate towards the interest of local taxpayers.

The City of Baltimore approved $535 million in tax-increment financing (TIF) for the redevelopment of Port Covington, which is projected to generate 70,000 jobs over the 40-year financing period. The City successfully negotiated that at least 30 percent of the project’s new jobs to go to Baltimore City residents and for the creation and funding of workforce development activities to help screen, prepare, and retain residents in these jobs.

Among the contractual benefits to the City:

  • Target hiring 30 percent of all on-site employees will be Baltimore City residents.
  • A newly established 16-member Port Covington Local Hiring Advisory Committee that includes members appointed by the mayor, community, Baltimore City Community College, Baltimore City Public Schools, the city comptroller and faith-based leaders.
  • 100 Youth Works jobs at $1,500 each for 10 years.
  • $25 million over a 15-year period to build and operate a Workforce Development Training Center.
  • $2 million annually in scholarships over a five-year period for city and community school students in Baltimore.
  • $7.6 million for after-school and summer programs in the city.

Port Covington demonstrates the potential to rebuild more than just potholes when government, industry, and community leaders step up to the challenge. Rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure is mandatory; so, too, could be the opportunity to transform the economy in the process.

Port Covington demonstrates the potential to rebuild more than just potholes when government, industry, and community leaders step up to the challenge.

America’s Report Card: A Wake-Up Call

The road to modern infrastructure, however, will be long. In March, we learned that America’s 2017 grade for infrastructure is a D+. (Curious about how your state is doing?) This barely passing grade, as determined by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), means that:

The infrastructure is in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life. A large portion of the system exhibits significant deterioration. Condition and capacity are of serious concern with strong risk of failure.

Though not caused by deterioration, the recent highway collapse in Atlanta reminds us how devastating and far-reaching the loss of critical infrastructure can be. And while the complexities of addressing our D+ are daunting and the risks from inaction keep growing, within the developing plans and political debate about improving our nation’s infrastructure lies a golden opportunity.

The Opportunity To Rebuild Lives

Construction unemployment rates are at all-time lows, and yet the $4.6 trillion national investment required for infrastructure improvement over the next ten years will create a tremendous demand for new workers. Without an empowered workforce in place, projects could face missed deadlines and rising labor costs.

America workforce demand statistics

Source: https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000

The tight market for skilled construction workers creates an opportunity for training and employment within the local community and opens the door to workforce re-engagement for those who’ve been sidelined due to job loss, incarceration, or even societal pressures.

America workforce deficit

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/06/07/the-biggest-business-story-of-the-next-five-years

The same idea could be applied to a national, federally-financed or subsidized infrastructure program. Public or private entities that receive public funding or tax credits for infrastructure repair and construction could be required to recruit, train, and employ locally. Project-specific targets for long-term unemployed individuals could ensure that economic benefits reach marginalized populations.

labor force participation rates

Source: http://menwithoutwork.com

It Takes Shared Commitment

Commercial enterprises need reliable, job-ready, professional and skilled-trade workers to build and maintain the infrastructure. Government and community entities need to prepare, educate, train, and upskill residents to successfully meet that demand. Each stakeholder group comes to the table with long lists of concerns, and a closer look at the issues highlights some of the interdependencies for overall project success and jobs creation.

As Port Covington ramps up, it’s hard not to see new life — and familiar faces —rising up along the shore.

Can Baltimore raise our D+ infrastructure grade? How did we get here, and where do we go now? Tell us what you think on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.