New Orleans City Council members on Tuesday lauded a strategy for recruiting, training and employing the city’s residents, especially minority and disadvantaged people, on the crews that will build a new terminal for Louis Armstrong International Airport, even as one council member raised concerns that certain bidders may have gotten preferential treatment in winning subcontracts.
The $546.5 million airport project, designed to replace the aging and inefficient main terminal, is moving ahead on schedule, a joint meeting of the council’s Transportation and Economic Development Committees was told, as are efforts by the city to leverage the project for more widespread economic development through jobs programs.
That effort will be funded in part through $2 million that the winning bidder on the project, the joint venture Hunt-Gibbs-Boh-Metro, is setting aside for workforce programs.
Because of the nature of the bidding process, which set a fixed price and then told the two bidders to come up with the best plan for spending it, that money does not mean additional costs for the airport.
“This is what I hope is the best part of this project, which is putting working families to work,” said Councilman Jared Brossett, who chairs the Transportation Committee. “We want to leverage those jobs into more than just a shiny new building.”
Ashleigh Gardere, director of the city’s Network for Economic Opportunity, said the city has set up centers to recruit and train workers who can go on to get jobs on the project, with training both for skills specifically related to construction jobs and for more general job skills.
The plans were largely cheered by members of Stand With Dignity, a group that advocates for better job opportunities for low-income residents, though many of its members said city officials must continue to hold the overall contractor to its obligations in terms of hiring, wages and the employment of businesses owned by women and minorities.
The project is on schedule for a May 2018 opening, timed to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the founding of the city.
While much of the meeting was focused on the economic development issue, Councilman James Gray also raised concerns about the process Hunt-Gibbs-Boh-Metro was using to select subcontractors.
Gray said he had heard from contractors vying to work for Hunt-Gibbs-Boh-Metro that a process had been set up to undermine their bids by denying them information they needed until it was too late to put together a proper proposal.
Gray said after the meeting that he also has been told other firms may have had access to that information before the rest of the pack, giving those particular companies an advantage, though he stressed he hadn’t looked into the claims personally.
Airport officials said a grievance about a contracting issue is under investigation.
“If your investigation shows that was the case, I think you need to redo the process,” Gray said. “This is an important issue for the city of New Orleans and not something we can just let pass.”
No one said what company has filed a grievance, what the contract was for or who won it.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.