For eight smaller Twin Cities civil engineering firms, snagging a contract on the $1 billion stadium in downtown Minneapolis is a chance to make an international reputation.

“It’s a huge deal. It’s the highest-profile project any engineer in the state could work on,” said Andy Kim, a principal at the Eden Prairie-based engineering and surveying firm EVS Inc.

Traditionally, smaller contractors have been shut out of such big projects because they didn’t have the experience or the staff. But on the Minnesota Vikings stadium project, the state made and continues to make unprecedented efforts to reach out to minority- and women-owned firms, as well as workers.

The opportunity is welcomed by firms like Kim’s that are accustomed to being subcontractors, not at the center of a project as they are at the stadium.

The recruitment goals are aimed both at businesses and individuals. By the time the new stadium opens in 2016, about 7,500 workers will have logged hours at the site.

As part of the stadium bill, the Legislature required the project to meet the hiring goals of 32 percent minority and 6 percent women. The project calculates hours worked, not just raw numbers. The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority went further by requiring subcontractors on the job to meet the same workforce diversity goals as the main contractors.

As of this week, those targets are being surpassed, with minority workers having accounted for 35 percent of total hours of labor on the project and women 10 percent.

Kim said that early on in the construction planning, state employees reached out to him and suggested that a coalition of minority- and women-owned firms band together to make a pitch. It was an unusual idea, he said, but it worked. For Kim’s firm, it has already led to other contracts at the site, including vibration monitoring, land surveying and concrete inspection.

An EVS employee, Dan Bowar, is in the center of this project, coordinating with the construction manager and the architect.

Said state Department of Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey: “You have an opportunity to put yourself on the map.”

There’s also some risk.

“When the public hears ‘women and minority businesses,’ they don’t necessarily think ‘high quality,’ ” Kim said. “If we don’t deliver, it’s going to smear the whole [women- and minority-owned business] community.”

‘Get people jobs’

The other part of the diversification involves training and funneling women, minorities and veterans into jobs with subcontractors requiring specific skills that can help them land future jobs. That’s the extra piece the Sports Facilities Authority is monitoring.

Lindsey said it’s common for “various ethnic backgrounds to get pigeonholed in various trades,” he said. With the subcontractor requirement, the aim is to help the underrepresented groups get more specialized skills.

“The whole idea is to get people jobs,” Lindsey said. “I want long-term employment for people.”

What’s happening with the construction project should provide a map for future projects, he said. The effort also isn’t merely a feel-good fantasy, but an “economic imperative” to build a diverse workforce, Lindsey said.

A recent report commissioned by the state’s philanthropies said an equity strategy is critical to adding jobs and businesses and remaining competitive. Minnesota’s racial gaps in income and education remain wide as the minority population grows. In 1980, 4 percent of Minnesotans were people of color. That number is 17 percent now, and it’s projected to be 29 percent by 2040.

The communities that figure out how to harness and integrate that segment are going to set themselves on the right course for the next 100 years, he said.

Frustration, too

The hiring efforts have been under continued public scrutiny at regular meetings run by Alex Tittle, the project’s equity director. In a meeting last week, Tittle came under a verbal onslaught from some audience members who said minority workers don’t believe they have a shot at getting involved.

The Rev. Jerry McAfee said he wanted the hiring data broken out to show what percentage of the workforce is black.

“Our people will not suffer any longer,” he said before leaving the event.

Tittle acknowledged the frustration.

“There are people who are angry because they haven’t had an opportunity to get on board, and part of the reason is they don’t know how,” he said. “Everybody in here is my partner. I recognize you as a valuable part of this machine.”