One day after local activists called for local and minority hiring at the Winchester factory redevelopment project, the city announced the opening of an office to do just that—down the block from the factory.
Contractors and city officials gathered at 4 Science Park on Winchester Avenue Thursday afternoon to celebrate the opening of the new offices of the New Haven Regional Contractors Alliance. The 11-year-old city-supported agency works to connect local small contractors with jobs. It also provides training to contractors looking to diversify their skills.
The organization’s new offices are less than a block up Winchester Avenue from the shuttered Winchester Arms factory, which is slated for a multi-million dollar redevelopment project to turn it into a mixed-use complex of apartments, offices, and retail space. Plans for that project were up for approval by the City Plan Commission on Wednesday night. At that meeting, neighborhood leaders decried a lack of community participation in the project’s planning. They also called on developers to ensure that locals and African-Americans be hired for construction and permanent jobs at the new project.
Several of those voices of opposition—including the Rev. Boise Kimber—showed up on Thursday afternoon to attend the celebration of the Contractors Alliance’s new office. One, contractor and neighbor Frank Jackson (at left in top photo with David Silverstone), called the opening of the office another “piece of the puzzle” that could create good employment connections between the Winchester project and the surrounding community.
“We’re celebrating the fact that we’re here in the middle of activities,” said Walter Esdaile, project manager at the Contractors Alliance. He stood with the mayor as he addressed the contractors and supporters packed into the two-room office.
Mayor John DeStefano said the Contractors Alliance’s new location ties it into ongoing development at Science Park and the Winchester Factory. Its addition creates a “nice cluster” in the area, he said. “We’re bringing things together in this neighborhood, where the action is going on.”
Asked for his response to the new office, Rev. Kimber declined to comment. “My wife told me not to talk to the press,” he said.
Another critic from the previous night’s City Plan Commission meeting shared his thoughts. Jackson, the local contractor, said developers have been “doing a pretty good job trying to connect businesses in Science Park with the community. ... This is another starting point.”
“It’s all about putting the pieces together,” he said. “This could work.”
David Silverstone, head of the board at the Science Park Development Corporation, said he would like the Contractors Alliance to be a source for workers on the Winchester project. “We’re hoping we can use the Contractors Alliance to hire high-quality subcontractors,” he said. That could include work in sheetrocking, plumbing, painting, framing, and electrical work, he said.
It’s important that the new office is now so close, Silverstone said. “It’s an easy point of entry.”
Previously, the Contractors Alliance had been operating out of a cubicle in a shared office on the Boulevard, said Esdaile (pictured). When it ran out of room there, city Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy helped the agency to find a new space in Science Park. Now the organization has more room for training, Esdaile said. The agency runs training programs on how to run jobs, budgeting and pricing jobs, and other contractor business skills. The alliance recently completed a training on green demolition.
The agency works with contractors that do under $3 million in sales annually, most of whom happen to be minority contractors, Esdaile said.
Lil Snyder, who oversees the alliance for the city’s department of economic development, said the new office is well-positioned not only because it’s in Science Park, but because it’s just down the hall from a literacy center, which offers training and job preparation.
Yesterday, when an ex-offender walked into the literacy center looking for training, workers there were able to help him out and then send him next door to the Contractors Alliance for more assistance, Snyder said.
Snyder said the offices will soon have computers set up for contractors to browse projects that are open for bidding.