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Group wants RDA to do more to help women and minorities get local jobs

Updated: December 22, 2012 6:25AM



Figures given to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority regarding the numbers of minorities working on RDA projects aren’t explicit enough for some, but the organization wants to help fix that.

A report presented by Desila Rosetti, founder of Westville-based Organizational Development Solutions Inc. to the RDA board of directors during its Tuesday morning meeting stated that 60 percent of those working on Gary’s RDA projects are employed by minority- or women-owned businesses; 50 percent are working in East Chicago’s; 34 percent are in Hammond’s and Whiting’s; and 56 percent are in Porter County’s.

As well, of the total $114,593,500 in monitored contracts, $22,527,646 of it, or 19.65 percent, has been awarded to minority- or women-owned businesses.

The report stopped short, however, of breaking down the wages these subcontractors pay their employees because the subcontractors are often leery of publicizing the amounts out of concern for competitive advantage, though Rosetti said she did have the numbers should the board want to view them.

But those numbers are monitoring the wrong thing, according to the Rev. Dwight Gardner and the Rev. Cheryl Rivera of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations. What they and several meeting attendees want to know is, who’s getting paid?

“We have no doubt who’s doing the work and who’s getting left out,” Gardner said. “They’re continuing to monitor the wrong thing, which is man-hours paid to the most disparaged ZIP codes.”

Rivera said she and Gardner met with U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, Oct. 22, who asked them to come up with 25 people who would benefit from work on the RDA projects. The two presented applications from 151 people at the meeting.

“They said they couldn’t find people, so we brought them 151,” Gardner said. “And a significant portion of those positions are unskilled positions, but less than one-half go to Lake and Porter counties.”

RDA Executive Director Bill Hanna acknowledged the topic of minority- or women-owned businesses is broad and that the Federation would like a much narrower focus, but getting one is often difficult because of employers’ reluctance to divulge certain information, plus the narrower numbers are more fluid because people tend to move around throughout the county. Nevertheless, he agreed the RDA should do more and is working toward that end.

“We’ve agreed to go through the process of working with outside agencies such as WorkOne, Indiana Plan and Labor to help improve access to these jobs,” he said. “We’re working on scheduling the next meeting with them and (Visclosky).”

In other business:

The board voted to accept the town of Pines’ application for a $160,000 Regional Challenge grant so it can start funding a series of planning studies that will help the town create a tourism spot on the lakeshore’s east end. The Porter County Board of Commissioners has agreed to front the $40,000, or 20 percent, match required of the Regional Challenge Grant by the RDA.

The RDA announced it has hired Sherry Ziller to its first-ever chief operating officer position. Ziller, who’s been the finance and grants manager since 2006, will continue to handle much of her financial duties as well as report to Hanna. The position pays up to $80,000, Hanna said.



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