UPDATE: Aug. 8, 2023: The Gilbane-Turner JV working on the Buffalo Bills new stadium project has added education and information sessions for minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses at more diverse locations and times across Erie County, according to Turner Construction.
The first session will happen today at 5 p.m. at the Frank E. Merriweather, Jr. Library at 1324 Jefferson Avenue in East Buffalo, New York. Additional sessions will also be scheduled in the cities of Tonawanda and Lackawanna.
After applying pressure to Gilbane-Turner when initial MWBE hiring goals weren’t met at the stadium project, Erie County, New York, Legislature Chairperson April Baskin told NBC-affiliate WGRZ that she had spoken with the JV and was encouraged by its response.
“We've been going back and forth with the Turner-Gilbane construction team over the last couple of weeks,” Baskin said in a live interview. “Kudos to Turner Construction for sending up their chief diversity officer and working with my office.”
Chris McFadden, spokesperson for the JV, said the team interfaced with approximately 450 people last week at a pre-bid “Meet the Prime” session at the Orchard Park stadium site, and was looking forward to the additional sessions that start this week.
“We welcome feedback provided by Chairwoman Baskin and others so that we can continue to build our program,” McFadden told Construction Dive. “Our outreach and engagement program will continue to grow through the course of construction and will evolve as all project stakeholders – including Erie County and New York State leaders, Empire State Development, the Buffalo Bills, and others in the community – review our program and suggest refinements.”
The original article follows below.
- Gilbane and Turner Construction, two of the industry’s biggest proponents of workforce diversity, are taking heat from a local legislator for falling short of initial hiring goals for minorities, women and veterans on the $1.5 billion Buffalo Bills NFL stadium job.
- Erie County, New York, Legislature Chairperson April Baskin called out the Gilbane-Turner JV building the stadium after New York State’s economic development arm found that the contractors’ MWBE efforts thus far hadn’t met goals of hiring 15% minority-owned, 15% woman-owned and 6% service-disabled and veteran-owned businesses.
- In a June 20 letter, Empire State Development, the state’s economic development department, said $242.7 million, or 16% of the build’s overall cost, had been awarded through early June. But the project’s hiring numbers had shortfalls of 12.7% for minorities, 10.9% for women and 5.8% for veterans, meaning it had made just marginal progress toward the goals in each category.
The letter characterized the JV’s results thus far as “well below its expected performance.”
"It's a 36% goal when you include the disabled veterans. That is supposed to be met," Baskin told local news station WKBW. “My question for the Gilbane/Turner team is of that money, how much of that money has gone to subcontractors, how many minorities, how many women, and how many of them are local from Buffalo, New York?”
Gilbane-Turner spokesperson Chris McFadden said the JV has so far held information sessions to engage diverse vendors, suppliers and contractors attended by 630 people.
“We’re very early in the process,” McFadden told Construction Dive. “There's going to be 100 more bid packages coming up, and there's going to be great opportunities to participate in this project with members of the local, MWB and veteran-owned business community. We want people from the community to build the project.”
While workforce inclusion goals have become common in construction in recent years, many prime contractors encounter challenges fulfilling them from local businesses.
Not only is there a widespread labor shortage among contractors in general, there’s often less capacity among MWBE and veteran-owned contractors — particularly those who are also small businesses — to take on big jobs. For that reason, megaprojects like the Bills stadium are often segmented out into smaller, more digestible segments for diverse contractors to participate in.
That’s what Baskin told the Buffalo News she’d like to see more of on this project, as well as more convenient times and locations for informational meetings about the build, not just in the early morning at the Orchard Park stadium site, about 20 minutes from downtown Buffalo.
McFadden said the JV has talked with Baskin’s team since media reports emerged about the hiring numbers, and that it is considering how it can hold future events in a more accessible way.
“With that feedback on the timing, we have talked about what can we do differently, and can we have them at other times,” McFadden said.
The flareup is particularly notable for Gilbane and Turner.
Both companies have been outspoken champions of increasing diversity in the construction industry to combat the sector’s racist, White-guys-only image.
Turner CEO Peter Davoren personally visits every Turner jobsite where biased behavior, which is common in construction, emerges. Meanwhile, Gilbane has committed to spending $4 billion with MWBE contractors, or 20% of all awards, over five years.
The two companies are also both founding members of Construction Inclusion Week, which aims to bring more diverse workers into the industry.
In the broader construction industry, underrepresented contractor groups have sometimes characterized workforce hiring goals on projects as little more than lip service.
Baskin told the Buffalo News she was concerned the JV team was just going through the motions to establish a paper trail that it had made a good faith effort to hire underrepresented businesses — a common perception of the industry — before submitting waivers for the goals once the project is done.
McFadden said that isn’t the group’s goal. For example, the JV attended a MWBE Expo hosted by Empire State Development in downtown Buffalo earlier this month to discuss ways for MWBE and veteran businesses to participate on the project, McFadden said.
McFadden said interested contractors — of any size or makeup — can register on the project’s website. When they do so, they will automatically be notified of future bid packages and opportunities, he said. Upcoming “Meet the Primes” sessions will be held on Aug. 1 and Aug. 2.
“Like every one of our projects, we are reaching out in the community to engage people to build projects in their community,” McFadden said. “We want to let them know about the opportunities that are there.”