Gilbane-Turner JV misses initial diversity goals on Bills stadium

Dive Brief:

  • 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. 

Dive Insight:

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. 

Diversity leaders

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.”

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