As a young man in the Army, Alex Tittle said he was passed over for promotions because of the color of his skin. Even with those injustices, he thought he would be a military man for life. Instead, he took his fight to end racial disparity to a different battleground.
He starting working at Summit Academy OIC, a vocational training and job placement program for low-income adults in north Minneapolis, and as civil rights deputy director for the state’s Department of Transportation. He then took on the task of ensuring the participation of minority contractors in the construction of U.S. Bank Stadium and the staging of the Super Bowl.
Now Hennepin County has hired Tittle as its disparity reduction director, a position few counties in the country include as part of their top leadership strategy. While Hennepin County has made strides on the issue, Tittle has seen the national studies that give the county low rankings because of its glaring gaps between white people and people of color in income, jobs, education and home ownership.
“Disparity didn’t happen overnight,” said Tittle, 44, who was hired in April and lives in Minneapolis. “When you reduce something, another thing pops up. People of color are bleeding the most. I’m not only optimistic about reducing the disparity, I expect success.”
County Administrator David Hough, who has known Tittle since he worked at Summit Academy 10 years ago, said Tittle’s track record brings instant credibility to the new job. In the construction of the $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium, he helped exceed the goal of 32 percent minority work participation by 5 percent. For the Super Bowl, he signed up 366 minority, women, veteran and LGBT-owned businesses for the catering and services guide published for the event.
“Alex will be the conductor to get all the players in county government and the community to play off the same sheet of music,” said Hough. “Disparity is our buzzword, and we want to be proactive.”
Hough is quick to point out that Tittle won’t be starting with an empty cupboard. The county has been active for years in reducing disparities by funding early education for children in foster care, diverting juveniles away from spending time in jail, providing job training for inmates at the workhouse, developing the long-neglected Penn and Plymouth Avenue intersection in north Minneapolis, and spearheading affordable housing programs and minority hiring goals for the county.
While the county has recently removed some of the barriers and raised its goals to give more contracts to minority and women-owned firms, a 2017 Minnesota Joint Disparity Study found that the business owners aren’t on a level playing field. Lack of inclusion in some industries and financing were cited as some of the reasons.
In his new position, Tittle will be paid a salary of $149,999. He said his role is to address and lead disparity reduction efforts within the seven “domain areas” of education, employment, income, justice, transportation, health and housing. This will be done mainly through the public works, public safety, health and human services and operations departments.
The Hennepin County Board and Hough have been addressing disparity issues for some time, and “the community is now really focused on it,” said Board Chairwoman Jan Callison. Resources need to be mobilized and Tittle knows how do it, she said.
“It’s a challenge for a county this size to make sure the left and right hands are coordinated,” she said.
Tittle came to Minnesota a decade ago after a 10-year military career that took him overseas as an intelligence analyst and transportation officer. In the Army, he saw disparate treatment of people of color. Even though his qualifications surpassed most other applicants, he wasn’t selected for the military intelligence branch, he said.
His first job in Minnesota was education director at Summit Academy. It was his introduction to the state’s workforce. “I got to cut my teeth on social action issues,” he said. He helped build the center’s training program with the local trade unions.
Super Bowl Host Committee CEO Maureen Bausch called Tittle the state’s premier expert in equity hiring and disparity issues. She praised his success with the construction of the stadium, and then with the Super Bowl “he did it again for us,” she said. For the stadium, 12 percent of the work was done by minority-owned businesses, accounting for $108 million in work, and 16 percent of contractors were owned by women, doing $138 million of the work.
“The Super Bowl was a great opportunity for outreach for minority hiring,” said Tittle. “In other jobs, I had a staff of seven to 10 people. For the Super Bowl, it was me and a coordinator. People came out of the woodwork to support.”
Whatever the job, Tittle has found it satisfying to see a minority owner get an opportunity to grow into a successful business. Working for the county impacts so many more people than a Super Bowl or a person who attends a game or concert at the stadium, he said.
“Hennepin County does so many innovative things that make me smile,” he said. “But we aren’t where we should be.”