By JOYCE ROWLEY/ecoRI News contributor
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — Last year, when the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) began the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal project, it promised a lot: a $100 million investment to remediate three abandoned mill sites; construction of a high-capacity container port terminal and wind-energy assembly site; and the creation of 170 to 200 green jobs.
In an area that has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, it was this last goal that would have immediate impacts on local residents. Now two-thirds of the way through the project, MassCEC has come close to meeting all of its goals.
MassCEC’s monthly updates makes it easy to track whether the employment commitment and the actual benefits to the city have been met. Locally, 18 percent of the marine commerce terminal jobs went to New Bedford residents; up to 40 percent were from the South Coast. Total employees peaked at 120 in January.
Project manager Bill White said MassCEC is also close to meeting its employment goals for the construction trades. A project labor agreement with 33 unions laid out hiring goals for the marine commerce terminal. Among other things, the agreement required that the unions provide a “helmet to hardhat” apprentice program for returning veterans.
According to this agreement, at least 11 percent of the work would be done by minority-owned or women-owned businesses. So far, the project has been running at 10.4, White said.
Another labor agreement goal set trade hires at 20 percent in apprenticeships. By April, there were roughly 15 percent to 23 percent apprenticeships in the four trade unions working on the project.
Dan Camara, a New Bedford resident and former Marine in the helmets to hardhat program, joked that at age 47 he was the oldest apprentice in the Local 4 Heavy Equipment Operators Union. He said his prior training allows him to operate most of the equipment used on the site.
“It’s one of the most interesting jobs I’ve had. I hope to keep learning,” said Dan Clark, an apprentice to the Local 56 Pile Drivers Union. Clark has worked since the project began on the environmental remediation in the harbor, and now drives piles for the marine commerce terminal’s cofferdam.
The project’s employment successes came in part from two state grants funneled through the New Bedford Economic Development Council (NBEDC). After a recruitment binge of 15 meetings in two weeks, 90 people applied for the apprenticeship program, funded by a $250,000 grant from the Commonwealth Corporation.
Twenty-five applicants were selected for the one-year program with Bristol Community College (BCC). Apprentices earn their OSHA 30 certificate, indicating they have had 30 hours of hazardous waste operator training, and clean-energy certificates from courses at BCC’s Green Career Center.
“The goal with this program is to get them working after the coursework,” NBEDC spokeswoman Lauren Costello said.
She said a $250,000 grant from MassCEC’s Pathways Out of Poverty program has enrolled nearly 30 city youth ages 16-24 in a program that helps them get their general equivalency diploma (GED), and then work toward 22 college credits at local school without incurring debt. The program runs for two years, with graduation in 2015.
“We try to provide education and training to inner city high-school students,” said Tamika Jacques, who runs the Pathways grant program. She said MassCEC has funded about $1 million for the Pathways program statewide.
“These two programs provide early lessons in how to recruit employees in the next five to ten years,” Costello said. “The beauty of these two grants is we learned how we get to those people who would benefit most.”
Building a job pipeline
“We’re in a holding pattern,” Costello said about future wind-power jobs. Although there isn’t a wind project deploying right now, they are building a “pipeline,” she said. NBEDC is working with New Bedford High School and the New Bedford Public Schools Sea Lab to engage students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) for futures in wind-power construction.
Cape Wind, a proposed 100-turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound, is one of several wind farms that are in the works off the coast of Massachusetts likely to be built at the city’s new marine commerce terminal.
Other partners assisting in the grant programs and job placement include the New Bedford Career Center, and the 40 business members of the NBEDC Workforce Development Task Force.