Economic stimulus could lift up some minoritiesby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
There are very large numbers being tossed around to describe the size of the stimulus package under construction in Washington, D.C.
They range from $600 to $850 billion. That amount of money could create millions of jobs.
A new Minnesota coalition wants to make sure minorities and women are included in the hiring. One of the architects of the effort is a veteran organizer and north Minneapolis educator.
Minneapolis, Minn. — The weather mirrored the economy when 200 people braved a snowstorm and bitter winds recently at a meeting in the basement of the Minneapolis Urban League.
Louis King, a veteran of negotiating with businesses to win jobs for people of color and women, introduced the audience to a new coalition called HIRE MN.
HIRE stands for healthcare, infrastructure and renewable energy. Coalition members include minority, women's, environmental and religious organizations.
King invited applause from the audience for putting Barack Obama in the White House.
"Now that we got that out of the way and patting ourselves on the back it's kind of like, so what?" King continued, "It's time to get to work because one man is not going to deliver the agenda that we need to put our families to work and to take care of our children and make sure that this country is a safe and prosperous place for every single person in the United States and that's what we're about tonight."
Many assume some federal stimulus money will be funneled through state agencies including state transportation departments for roads and bridges.
King, who is CEO and president of Summit Academy OIC, a north Minneapolis vocational training center, wants to make sure the Minnesota Department of Transportation meets federal and state rules for hiring.
The rule requires states receiving federal dollars and the contractors they do business with to make a good faith effort to direct 10 percent of the money to women and minority owned businesses.
MnDOT in recent years has fallen far short of the goal. The agency is attempting to improve its performance. MnDOT set a 15 percent goal for this fiscal year.
The HIRE MN goal for the agency, Louis King says, is 25 percent.
"Billions of dollars (are) being spent. You see rules in place that says it's to be shared among other people and then you see people who don't take that very seriously and they have very miserable performance and they say, 'That's OK,' well, it's not OK."
Louis King is a Jacksonville, Fl. native and Morehouse College graduate. During his years in the military he came north for a three year stint to train ROTC students at the University of Minnesota and stayed to raise his family.
As head of Summit Academy OIC, King has created an alliance with nearby Dunwoody College of Technology to expand vocational training opportunities for his students.
He lobbies businesses and government to hire the graduates.
King worked with Mortenson Construction company to hire 25 percent minority and women workers on the new Twins baseball park going up in downtown Minneapolis. When he saw Mortenson was falling behind in it's hiring goal King threatened to organize a protest and shut down construction.
"Nobody wanted that to happen. I told people that I was willing to go to jail. Everybody knows me. I'm a pretty straight laced guy. 'What is Louis talking about' (they asked)?"
The crisis was averted.
Mortenson officials committed to fulfilling the goals. King heaps praise on Mortenson. Ken Sorenson vice president and general manager of Mortenson's Minneapolis office returns the sentiment when talking about King.
"He knows how to get things done. He has his style, but we have nothing but praise and admiration for what he's done for the that organization it's a great thing they're doing for the community."
The HIRE MN coalition is taking a page from the Obama campaign as a way of reaching people.
Louis King and the other members are opening field offices, organizing town meetings in the Twin Cities and at several out state locations this winter.
The coalition and King are also meeting with state agency officials to press their hiring efforts, and they plan a large rally at the Capitol during the coming legislative session as a way of showing their strength.
- Morning Edition, 12/29/2008, 7:35 a.m.