Louis King, a former Army artillery officer, has fired alternating barrages of demonstration, persuasion and negotiation at government managers, private contractors and unions to boost minority participation on local construction projects.
King commands Summit Academy, the north Minneapolis vocational training center that's leading the charge on job training and placements.
"We're at halftime," King, 52, said last week. "We're going into the third quarter and there are a lot of projects pending: a new Vikings stadium, refurbishing Target Center, a new Xcel Energy headquarters and expansion of the Target campus in Brooklyn Park."
In short, King, who graduates nearly 150 people annually into the construction trades (and another 55 into entry-level health care jobs), believes that minority participation on projects that receive at least some public funding can increase from recent highs of about 11 percent across various occupations to 33 percent over the next decade.
"The next job is not in the newspaper; it's in your network," King tells his students. And Summit graduates, mostly people of color, are advancing into new networks. The contracting business and construction trades traditionally have been the provinces of white males.
King is on a first-name basis with executives at such companies as huge Mortenson Construction as well as the building trades and heavy equipment operators unions. The coming retirement of many baby boomers in the trades over the next decade and the growth of immigrant and minority populations also play to the diversity trend.
"I've told Louis, 'This is your time,'" said Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota State Building & Construction Trades Council. "I get it. My parents were immigrants. I've taught carpentry and construction management in a community college, and there were more and more women, people of color and immigrants. We have an opportunity to create a new feeder system of talented, trained people for the construction-trades industry."
King has hammered out agreements over the past several years with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the unions, Mortenson and other contractors. That led to a minority training-and-hiring surge. For example, nearly a quarter of the workers hired by subcontractors at Target Field, TCF Bank Stadium and the "green roof" on the city-owned Target Center were members of minority groups.
The new $41.7 million Minneapolis school headquarters on W. Broadway on the North Side had about 25 percent minority workers and contractors, according to the general-contracting team of Mortenson Construction and Thor Construction.
"Louis has done so well because he and his organization are strategically focused and tactically disciplined and very results oriented," said Ravi Norman, CEO of Thor. "Louis is an unyielding leader with a commitment to his people and the people of north Minneapolis."
The kids of the district, most of whom are minority students, increasingly should see technical training and the construction trades as an option after high school.
Certificates and GEDs
King is paid about $165,000 annually to run a $4.5 million training nonprofit that is funded by government grants and private contributions. Summit's staff of 30 teachers, counselors and others provide hard- and soft-skills training to about 450 students each year, including high school dropouts and ex-offenders. They work to complete GEDs and earn certificates as nursing assistants, community health workers and construction trainees.
King, who took over the then-struggling Summit Academy a decade ago, restocked the governance and advisory boards with business- and tradespeople.
Most Summit students in the program are minorities, and are unemployed and low-income when they start. A disproportionate number hail from north Minneapolis. About 70 percent leave with certificates.
King, also a community leader who was the head of the North Side Community Response Team that spearheaded recovery efforts after the May 2011 tornado, long has said the best social welfare programs are a good attitude, good training and a good job that can support a family.
Gary Courtney, the carpentry manager at Summit, is an architect who was designing high-end houses when he was laid off by his firm during the 2008-09 recession. Courtney said he enjoys working with students, who range from 18 to 40 years old and who often are getting a second chance to succeed. They're enthused about a career in the trades and rebuilding their neighborhoods as well as commercial structures, he said.
Missy Nystrom, a 2011 Summit graduate, has just about doubled her grocery store wage of $10 per hour and has the potential to make up to $32 per hour within several years as a skilled cement worker. She's employed by Mortenson and is working on the Radisson Blu hotel at the Mall of America.
A single parent, she said she enjoys the work and is proud that "I am able to support myself."
Vicki Mackins, a north Minneapolis native and Summit graduate, is a carpenter working on a renovation project at Normandale Community College. Her kids are proud of the way Mom can wield a hammer, level and other tools.
"This work builds your self-esteem," she said.
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • firstname.lastname@example.org