As a local contractor, I do not support anything that will cause burdensome regulation and unnecessary red tape for contractors. However, the local hiring ordinance being considered by the city of St. Petersburg does not create burdens for contractors. Results from other communities show that such ordinances have provided benefits to contractors by providing them with skilled, prescreened pools of local employees ready to be hired. I will have no problem meeting the requirements of the ordinance.
The city of Sarasota has already put a similar policy into practice, and contractors involved have praised the efforts. All of the contractors involved have exceeded the requirements set by the city. The requirements put on those contracts by Sarasota did not raise costs, did not put burdens on contractors, and did not damage neighboring communities.
Similar ordinances exist throughout the country in places such as Milwaukee and Cleveland. These ordinances have not raised costs and are generally praised by the contractors involved.
The local hiring ordinance is not a form of protectionism. Any contractor from throughout the country has an equal chance to get a city contract. And it is absolutely not a form of cronyism. What happens currently in the city of St. Petersburg is cronyism. A few large contractors receive most of the city work. They hire out-of-town friends as subcontractors because there is no effective vehicle to help them connect with local subcontractors and local workers. They particularly don't hire local rehabilitated ex-offenders because they have no means to find and screen them. This ordinance will provide those vehicles.
The unemployment rate for residents of south St. Petersburg is 19 percent, with 25 percent of the population living at the poverty level. The local hiring ordinance will require contractors on big projects to hire unemployed residents and ex-offenders. If the city doesn't do something to encourage employers to hire these workers and give them an opportunity to be gainfully employed, the same people will find their way to life on our streets and eventually to our county jail.
St. Petersburg residents don't want to walk by the workers building the new police station and see their tax dollars paying out of town workers, only to return to their own communities and see guys out of work, struggling to feed their families.
It seems fair to me that if city taxpayer dollars are being spent, an extra effort should be taken to ensure that those taxpayers benefit from those investments. As a contractor in the city of St. Petersburg, I would have no problem if Tampa adopted the same ordinance and would encourage them to do so. If I get a contract of more than $2 million of Tampa taxpayer money, I would be happy to use a pool of prescreened unemployed workers from Hillsborough to do some of the work. That's only fair, and it would be easier for me to do that than have to pay travel costs for large numbers of workers from St. Petersburg to travel to Tampa every day.
Robert Ward is owner of Ward Construction, a local construction company. He is also a pastor of Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church and a member of Faith and Action for Strength Together (FAST), a coalition of faith-based congregations that supports the ordinance.