The iconic design of the new Vikings stadium is becoming further realized with each day on the job by dedicated workers.
Approximately 650 workers are at the construction site daily, a number that will escalate to more than 1,100 when the project hits its peak of activity in July 2015. More than 200 Minnesota-based companies have been involved since December 2013. The stadium is approximately 25 percent complete as November begins and remains on schedule to open in July 2016.
Just as those workers follow construction documents for the largest construction project in state history, the Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) are working together to adhere to the project's equity plan, which established hiring goals and compliance mechanisms to extend opportunities for qualified groups of workers and businesses that may have been overlooked in previous projects, goals that could make the finished product even more impressive.
Shortly after the passage of stadium legislation in 2012 and the ensuing formation of the MSFA, the stadium team incorporated the City of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights' workforce goals of 32 percent minorities and six percent females for projects funded by public money. Targeted business goals — expressed as a percentage of the overall dollar amount of the project — of 11 percent female-owned and nine-percent minority-owned businesses for construction were also established. Although not required by legislation, targeted business goals of 11 percent female-owned and eight percent minority-owned businesses were also established within the stadium design process.
Leading the charge to achieve these goals is MSFA Equity Director Alex Tittle, who says he considers process "everything" in the overall success of the project.
"As many people well know, when it comes to construction, it has to be completed on time, on task and on target," Tittle said. "You have to ensure that you have a plan, that you follow the plan and everybody else understands and is being held accountable to the plan. One of the major components within the equity plan is transparency. My whole thing, I want to make sure that the contractors or workers, everybody in the community has an opportunity to 'EAT.' "
The 'E' stands for efficiency, the 'A' stands for accountability and the 'T' stands for transparency, said Tittle, an African-American veteran of the U.S. Army.
Tittle, whose service from 1997-2007 included tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, began his role with the MSFA in June of 2013. He was excited by the opportunity because it allows him to build on the relationships he developed in his former role as the Minnesota Department of Transportation's Director of Civil Rights.
"How many opportunities are you going to get to build the largest facility in the state's history? This was tailor-fit," Tittle said. "I'm a huge Vikings fan and an even bigger advocate for equal rights, civil rights and human rights, so it just made sense. I was blessed with the opportunity back in June of last year and we've been moving in a positive direction ever since."
While public projects follow the City and State's established goals, what makes the stadium construction different is that it is being funded by a combination of private and public money.
"With this project, it's so unique because the Vikings are a partner, not a public entity, and private organizations do what they want, but unlike other private jobs, the Vikings are committed to creating a fair and equal opportunity for workers, women and veterans, as well as businesses to have a fair shot at working on this project. One of the selling points to (Gov. Mark Dayton), I believe, was that Minnesota jobs were going to be created and Minnesota businesses were going to flourish with the opportunities on this project."
Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf said incorporating the equity plan into the project was important to the organization because of the opportunities it helps provide for workers.
"We have always maintained that the construction of the new stadium would offer thousands of Minnesotans a chance for work, but we are very proud to see that equity within the hiring process has been such a significant focus," Wilf said. "This new stadium not only has the potential to set the standard for inclusion with women and minorities, but also to establish a foundation for veteran-hiring within public-private projects."
The Vikings and MSFA used a formula that evaluated a disparity study, Census data, and "the environment," or capacity of small businesses in the state of Minnesota to develop the targeted business goals, Tittle said.
"The environment is based off three different certification directories for small and underutilized businesses: women, minorities and veteran businesses," Tittle said. "They looked at those directories and looked at the potential and capacity of those businesses and base that formula on those criteria."
Certifications available for minority and women-owned businesses include disadvantaged business enterprises, targeted group businesses and the central certification program.
This week workers installed an on-site mock-up of the clear ETFE roof that will ultimately cover 60% of the new stadium, and also began the install of the ring beam.
GOALS CURRENTLY BEING EXCEEDED
Through the end of September, a total of 524,009 hours had been worked on the project, including 202,363 hours by minority workers, 48,595 hours by women workers and 26,719 hours by veterans.
Given that workforce participation is calculated with regard to the hours worked by a group compared to the total hours worked on the project, the current workforce numbers placed minority participation at 38.6 percent (nearly seven percentage points higher than the 32 percent goal) and female participation at 9.3 percent (more than three percentage points higher than the six percent goal). Veteran participation, which was not included in the legislation, was at 5.1 percent.
For targeted businesses: women-owned enterprises are at 19 percent (goal is 11), minority-owned enterprises are at 11 percent (goal is eight), and veteran-owned enterprises are a "little over one percent and growing," Tittle said.
To assist with transparency, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights audits the workforce participation numbers. Commissioner Kevin Lindsey and his staff conduct site visits to what Lindsey said is the largest known public construction project in state history.
"The goals we set for the project reflect the changing face of demographics within the state of Minnesota," Lindsey said. "People sometimes confuse the idea as it relates to the number of people, but it's actually the number of hours that are worked, so it allows the opportunity for a contractor to bring in people of various skill and experience levels to meet their respective goals. They have some flexibility in doing that."
Tittle and Lindsey said contractors and the local union labor force have worked together to position the project ahead of its workforce goals.
Tittle, who has previously worked with Mortenson and Thor Construction, a minority-owned business, said the leading companies have "an excellent track record for inclusion."
"We have a very productive relationship already and know what to expect because we were all at the table when we developed the expectations," Tittle said.
Lindsey said the relationships built by Tittle and the MSFA are helping meet the project's goals. Inclusion in this project, he anticipates, can have lasting effects on the businesses.
"I really do appreciate all the work that (MSFA Chair) Michele Kelm-Helgen and Alex have done in having community meetings with the contractors and with communities and trying to encourage contractors to give opportunities to people of color and women to work on this particular project," Lindsey said. "I think the individuals who work on these large, signature-type projects are individuals who tend to stay within the construction field probably a little longer or make it a lifelong endeavor because there is an amount of pride in working on these projects.
"I'm really thankful of the opportunities provided by the Sports Facilities Authority and the contractors, Thor Construction and Mortenson, for making those opportunities available to the workers on this project," Lindsey continued. "I think it's going to create a pipeline. That's really what we're talking about, creating a pipeline of workers and stabilizing construction going forward, well into the balance of this decade and hopefully well into the next decade."
Lindsey said the stadium project's plan for inclusion when hiring workers for construction and operation of the facility can be a good "first chapter in the discussion" for increasing workforce diversity to non-sports projects as well.
"I'm hopeful when we look at this model for the Vikings stadium is that this will also influence the way we look at other large investment projects such as Destination Medical Center (in Rochester)," Lindsey said.
Association of Women Contractors Executive Director Barb Lau said the AWC is "very comfortable with the work Mortenson is doing in exceeding all the goals at this time."
"I think the goals were set appropriately for this size project, particularly when you're looking at women business goals, you're looking at a dollar value," Lau said. "For a project of this size, to be at 11 percent of that project being spent with women-owned businesses in Minnesota is appropriate for us. Right now, it's being exceeded, so we'll take that, too."
The AWC is a Minnesota -based advocacy and assistance group founded in 1995 that's grown to about 170 member organizations, including some companies that are not owned by women.
"We provide education and networking, great opportunities for our members," Lau said. "I work on things like the stadium and the Central Corridor (Light Rail Green Line) to keep reviewing the equity of the project to make sure that goals are being met for women and minorities."
Lau said goals on projects "are really intended to help level the playing field so that businesses that have the capacity and ability to work on a project can compete on a project with relationships they might not have had before."
Lau said because women-owned businesses are not a class that is presumed to be discriminated against, they sometimes struggle for access to capital funds that allow a company to span the time in which they start on a project to when they begin receiving payment. Lau said the ACW is working on developing relationships that will make those funds accessible.
The Central Corridor (Light Rail Green Line) project, Lau said, provided learning opportunities for the ACW and its members. She said a goal the AWC has this time around is that the women and minority-owned businesses that work on as high-profile a project as the stadium "use it as an opportunity to grow their business, to build capacity for their business."
View the final images of the new Vikings stadium showing the Vikings' locker room, concourses and other shots. For more visit newminnesotastadium.com.
"We're really looking to grow the marketplace and not just fill a goal," Lau said. "We're looking for opportunity that is sustainable, but relationships that are sustainable. We'd like to not have (the need for) goals."
Lau said Elevator Advisory Group is an early example of success on the stadium project. The company is a woman-owned business under the professional services design category and was planning to bid to design two elevators as a subcontractor but was awarded the full contract to design the vertical transportation systems (elevators and escalators).
"That does a lot, not just for her resume, but the self-esteem for that business in and of itself to know they can grow," Lau said. "It's not an assumption all the time. You kind of get stuck in your niche, so it's kind of risky to take your business out to that next level, so to see a success story like (Kathy Markwell's) is all we can hope for with all of our businesses."
VETERAN INCLUSION ALSO A PRIORITY
Tittle said a disparity study on veterans in the workforce has not been conducted, and the amount of veterans placed each year is hard to capture. That doesn't, however, mean there haven't been efforts to include veterans.
United Veterans Legislative Council First Vice Chairman Jerry Kyzer is one strong voice of advocacy for veterans. Kyzer, a combat veteran disabled by wounds suffered in Vietnam, is passionate about assisting members of the military as they transition from their service to civilian lives and is also with the Minnesota Military Action Group.
Kyzer is helping push for inclusion of veterans in projects across the state in the now and for the future by establishing a state certification process that will be easier for veteran-owned businesses to navigate than the current process through the Department of Veterans Affairs while providing enough oversight to prevent companies from making false claims to secure contracts.
"We wanted to make sure we could get more veteran-owned businesses and veterans workforce people involved with the Vikings Stadium and other entities that are going to be in this state to make sure these young men and women coming back can have an outlet, kind of like minority and women, that they've been doing that for 50 years," Kyzer said. "The veterans, we're every minority and every ethnic group you can think of. Our attitude is veterans have a part in it because we are America and have talents that we feel can be used in business and labor, and they've served their country and sacrificed their time and sometimes their health. We want to make sure they have equal opportunities the minorities and women did, kind of our own civil rights."
Kyzer's family has a long history of military service. His eighth-generation grandfather was a German mercenary hired by the British during the French and Indian War, and relatives fought in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and in Korea before Kyzer served as a crew chief and machine gunner for more than 200 missions in Vietnam. His daughter was an Air Force cadet before resigning to marry a Marine, and Kyzer wants to make sure veterans are well-received when they return home because it wasn't necessarily the case when he came back from a war that was unpopular.
He cites multiple qualities among veterans that make them good employees.
"Veterans show up, they know how to work together as a team, they'll use all the processes that we have in the military," Kyzer said. "We follow orders."
Kyzer pointed out that Mort Mortenson (chairman of Mortenson) and David Mortenson (president) each served in the Navy, "so theoretically they are for us but they are looking for people that can do the job."
EMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE FIRM HIRED
Tittle said projects he's researched elsewhere have traditionally set goals for workforce participation but not followed through with the amount of oversight or had such a strong showing at the start. All parties on this project want to keep exceeding goals. To help do that, and to keep up with fluctuations that can occur over the construction timeline based on the phase of the project and the supply of workers in Minnesota with particular skillsets, the Vikings and MSFA hired Summit Academy as the Employment Assistance Firm to help prepare a diverse workforce. Multiple groups are working to provide such assistance to recruit, hire and retain workers and offer training opportunities.
"I think our EAF partners are up to the challenge," Tittle said. "Hundreds of people have responded to job fairs and advertisements that speak to, 'If you're looking to work on this project, we'll get you connected.' "
The goals for workforce participation will extend past the construction of the stadium to its operation, which was also a core piece of the legislation.
Tittle said he and the MSFA are already working with parties to develop goals for business procurement for all stadium operations. He's hoping the plan that is developed can be a guiding landmark.
"We're developing that right now," Tittle said. "I think that will turn into a standard that all stadiums in Minnesota and potentially, hopefully, it touches other facilities across the country."