Wednesday, October 26, 2005
How many construction jobs at Atlantic Yards? 1,500 a year? 1,200 a year?
The real estate developer Forest City Ratner Companies announced yesterday that McKissack & McKissack, the country's oldest black-owned construction firm, would manage a planned $182 million renovation of the Atlantic Yards rail depot in Brooklyn. The renovation of the century-old railyards is the first major stage of the $3.5 billion development that Forest City Ratner has proposed. Supporters of the development said the selection of McKissack & McKissack was evidence that the developer was keeping its promise to hire contracting firms owned by minorities and women whenever possible. Critics have said that they hope to block the development.
Note that, according to BUILD (but not Forest City Ratner), McKissack & McKissack has also been contracted to build the arena, according to a 5/28/05 article in the Brooklyn Papers.
Also, it's time for the Times, and the rest of the press, to analyze exactly how many construction jobs are at stake, to explain that construction jobs but not office jobs can be steered to local residents, and to explain that construction jobs are customarily calculated in job-years, which inflates their number in casual press accounts.
First, there's a question of the total number. Forest City Ratner has long promised 15,000 union construction jobs, in a December 2003 press release (p. 5), in the June/July issue (available 6/17/05) of the Brooklyn Standard, and in the Fall issue of the Brooklyn Standard (p. 5), issued earlier this month.
However, Mayor Bloomberg used a figure of 12,000 construction jobs in a 3/3/05 press release and a 5/19/05 press release.
Adding to the confusion is that FCR promised 15,000 construction jobs for a project that was initially to cost $2.5 billion and cover 7.6 million zoning square feet and 8 million gross square feet. The company still promises the same number of jobs for a project that now would cost $3.5 billion (a 40% increase) and cover 9.132 million gross square feet (a 14.1% increase). That doesn't add up.
The most recent mention in the Times was a 6/28/05 Metro Briefing headlined "Developer Promises Benefits," which used the 12,000 construction jobs figure, apparently based on a previous mayoral press release:
The developer, Bruce Ratner... promised that he would give local residents the first chance at work on the $3.5 billion development, which is expected to generate 12,000 construction jobs and 8,500 permanent jobs.
That report implies that local residents, as part of the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), would get priority for not just construction jobs but also office jobs, which are projected to be most of the permanent jobs, though the amount of office space has been cut by two thirds since December 2003. Similarly, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, in his 2005 State of the Borough address, also gave the impression that local residents would get a boost:
It is estimated that Atlantic Yards will create about 10,000 permanent new jobs. That is above and beyond the 15,000 construction-related jobs that it will create over the next decade.
And we can all be proud that 100 percent of those workers will be union employees.
Under a proposed groundbreaking Community Benefits Agreement, as many as possible of those new jobs will be filled by Brooklyn residents, and I promise you, those jobs will go to those who need them most — particularly low income residents living in public housing nearby.
To be precise, "100 percent of those workers" refers to only the construction jobs, and "as many as possible of those new jobs" refers only to construction jobs. Unless Markowitz had used the terms "construction workers" and "those new construction jobs," his speech can be read to imply that the CBA applies to all jobs. Rather, the CBA (p. 13ff.) refers to pre-apprentice training for construction jobs, lists of unemployed local construction workers, customized job training for project tenants, retail leasing preferences for local businesses, and internships.
City Council member Charles Barron quizzed FCR ’s Jim Stuckey about the office jobs at the 5/26/05 City Council hearing (p. 73-74):
STUCKEY: Well, we’re not even sure who those companies will be yet, Council member. I can’t tell you who the employees will be.
BARRON: Those jobs won’t be controlled by you?
STUCKEY: Those jobs are controlled by the companies that --
BARRON: That’s right. So, those, they could hire whoever they want basically.
STUCKEY: Typically that’s what happens with businesses in our country.
More fundamentally, as I write in Chapter 2 of my report, construction jobs are temporary jobs, not permanent jobs. A construction job, in standard industry parlance, lasts for one year. So FCR's projection means 15,000 job-years (1,500 jobs each year over 10 years). That means 1,500 people would be working each year. Or, if Bloomberg's numbers are used, there would be 1,200 jobs a year.
Andrew Alper, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, acknowledged as much, at a 5/4/04 City Council Economic Development Committee hearing, where he assumed 14,400 construction jobs, a 4% drop from 15,000, which wasn't explained (p.23):
I should say that is construction people years, so it may not be 14,400 workers, it is that number of jobs for a year per person...
The Brooklyn Papers, in a 6/26/04 article headlined Numbers game over Ratner arena jobs, explained:
From the beginning the project’s developer, Bruce Ratner, has said the project will create 10,000 permanent jobs and 15,000 construction jobs.
But critics of the plan are pointing out that the project will really only create 1,500 construction jobs, which will continue each year for 10 years.
“Fifteen-hundred jobs a year over 10 years is 15,000 jobs and it’s 1,500 jobs a year in an area of high unemployment,” said Forest City Ratner spokeswoman Beth Davidson.
Other press outlets have not used the job-years figure regarding Atlantic Yards. In writing about other projects, the New York Times has done so, however. For example, a 4/10/05 Times article about the proposed West Side Stadium headlined "Mayor’s Guess At Stadium Jobs Is Highest Yet," the proponents’ data were questioned:
The mayor and the Jets contend that the project will generate 18,000 jobs. It actually means, the Jets acknowledge, that there will be an average of 4,500 jobs during the four years of construction.
The budget office’s estimate, however, was far lower than the Jets’—an average of 2,880 construction jobs per year, and it did not bother multiplying that figure by four, because construction jobs by their nature are temporary.
So here are some questions for the press: How many construction jobs are in fact planned? Where did Mayor Bloomberg's 12,000 jobs figure come from? Has the number of construction jobs changed since the project size was increased? And why aren't construction jobs also described in job-years?