First Source Policy Brings Employment Opportunities To Erie County Residents

Modified: September 27, 2017 11:01am

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Poloncarz signs Executive Order requiring contractors on Erie County construction projects to employ local labor, with emphasis on high poverty areas and disadvantaged workers

Sixteen zip codes targeted including areas in Cheektowaga, Farnham, Wales Center, Cities of Buffalo and Lackawanna

ERIE COUNTY, NY- Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined today by elected officials and members of the business community as he signed his 18th Executive Order, mandating that Erie County construction projects of over $250,000 and involving at least three workers shall include requirements to employ local and disadvantaged workers. The purpose of the Order is to foster construction employment opportunities for qualified local residents, underemployed individuals or otherwise disadvantaged workers on construction projects located within the geographic boundaries of Erie County which are bid by the County of Erie.

"With this Executive Order we are investing in our local workforce and extending opportunity to the over 182,000 working-age individuals in our region who are either unemployed or underemployed and looking for work. Many of these workers live in areas of Erie County with poverty rates of 20% or greater, including areas that are urban, suburban and rural," said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. "Each year, Erie County invests over $30 million in tax dollars for public works construction projects across the county. We are leveraging that investment to create opportunity for more county residents and by doing so are ensuring that we are investing in our workforce as well as our infrastructure."

The new Executive Order and accompanying policy are critical to building an inclusive and prepared workforce and are vital components of the administration's Initiatives for a Smart Economy 2.0: Focus on Inclusion. Poloncarz was joined at the signing event by NYS Assemblyman Sean Ryan (149th District), Heather Gresham, Executive Director of the Buffalo & Erie County Workforce Investment Board ("WIB"), President of the Buffalo Building Trades Council Paul Brown, Buffalo NAACP President Rev. Mark Blue, and People United for Sustainable Housing ("PUSH") Buffalo Executive Director Aaron Bartley. The Executive Order can be read here.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan said, "I have long been an advocate for first source hiring, and today's announcement by County Executive Poloncarz is an exciting step forward for Erie County. I thank the County Executive for taking action today to address poverty in our community though new rules that will promote inclusive employment. Our local economy has made great strides in recent years, yet we continue to face an epidemic of poverty. The new first source hiring policy will get to the root of the problem, and actively connect residents living in poverty with jobs that pay a living wage. This is a model that should be followed across the state and around the country."

Labor market studies of the Buffalo-Niagara region indicate that 20% of the total current jobs in the market (137,000 jobs) will be impacted by retirements in the next 10 years, affecting $6.9 billion in wages, but there currently are not enough unemployed and emerging workers to fill those jobs. In addition, 132,100 potential workers in the market are underemployed and searching for opportunities to better utilize their skills.

"This executive order is a game-changer for our workforce, and will provide pathways into in-demand industries that have not previously existed for underemployed and disadvantaged individuals," said Heather Gresham, Executive Director of the WIB. "These are jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage and provide the ability to change the lives of workers and residents here in Erie County."

While unemployment in Erie County as a whole is comparable to other metropolitan regions in the United States, the unemployment rate within certain zip codes located in Erie County is as high as 21.7% and the poverty rate as high as 44.7%; these zip codes are among the 16 targeted for attention by the Executive Order. Individuals residing in these zip codes and disadvantaged workers, already facing challenges in securing meaningful employment and experiencing higher rates of unemployment themselves, will have opportunities to secure employment on county-bid projects for which they meet qualifications. Only 58% of the population in the Buffalo-Niagara market is currently employed or actively seeking work, leaving 42% out of the labor force.

Paul Brown, President of the Buffalo Building Trades Council, said, "I am happy that this Order creates more 'on ramps' into the trades for diverse populations as well as for younger people, and is consistent with our mission to ensure decent wages, quality working conditions, and equal opportunity for all."

"We must provide hope, guidance and leadership for the unemployed and underemployed members of our community so they can seize opportunity. This is a wise investment of tax dollars that will help rebuild our region's infrastructure while at the same time providing living wage construction jobs for people who want to work," said Buffalo NAACP President Rev. Mark Blue. "Poverty and the expansion of opportunities are issues that require teamwork and a public commitment from individuals and entities from both the public and private sector, and I was pleased to support County Executive Poloncarz and his administration in the creation and establishment of this Executive Order."

"This is a landmark policy that will ensure the projects subsidized by taxpayers create real jobs in our community. For too long, we've been paying for projects that yield very few public benefits. First Source policies have worked across the country, and they will work here," said Aaron Bartley, Executive Director, PUSH Buffalo.

The Order, which will affect contracts involving expenditures greater than $250,000 beginning October 1, identifies a disadvantaged worker as a county resident who has a household income below 50% of the Area Median Income ("AMI"); or has been released from prison within the last 10 years; or participates in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families ("TANF") program; or participates in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP"); or has been unemployed for at least 12 consecutive months. Applicable zip codes for consideration will be determined annually by the Erie County Division of Equal Employment Opportunity and will be provided to potential contractors in all requests for bids documents. Construction projects funded wholly or in part by Federal Highway Administration funds are exempt from the Order.

Construction projects initiated in the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning Division of Sewer Management must be compliant with the order by April 2018. County Executive Poloncarz released the rules and regulations guiding the implementation of the Order simultaneously with the issuance of the Order today. Definitions of applicable contracts, implementation proceedings and wavier provisions are enumerated in the rules and regulations.