Redefining the Art of the Infrastructure Deal

A commitment to do more for our cities and towns

May 2, 2017 · 5 min read

Baltimore Strong: The Model of Port Covington

The South Baltimore skyline overlooks a tranquil waterfront, with a harbor so booming that Francis Scott Key was inspired to pen the Star-Spangled Banner. This is Baltimore’s front porch, Maryland native Kevin Plank’s vision for the Port Covington development.

Through his Sagamore Development Company, the Under Armour CEO aims to transform what is now mostly vacant, unproductive land into a new gateway seen by 42 million cars a year passing by on I-95, and showing an “authentic American city on the rise.”

The proverbial city porch serves as an example of the workforce opportunities made possible when project stakeholders move in tandem for the benefit of all.

The City of Baltimore approved $535 million in tax-increment financing (TIF) for the redevelopment of Port Covington, which is projected to generate 70,000 jobs over the 40-year financing period. The City successfully negotiated that at least 30 percent of the project’s new jobs to go to Baltimore City residents and for the creation and funding of workforce development activities to help screen, prepare, and retain residents in these jobs.

Among the contractual benefits to the City:

  • Target hiring 30 percent of all on-site employees will be Baltimore City residents.
  • A newly established 16-member Port Covington Local Hiring Advisory Committee that includes members appointed by the mayor, community, Baltimore City Community College, Baltimore City Public Schools, the city comptroller and faith-based leaders.
  • 100 Youth Works jobs at $1,500 each for 10 years.
  • $25 million over a 15-year period to build and operate a Workforce Development Training Center.
  • $2 million annually in scholarships over a five-year period for city and community school students in Baltimore.
  • $7.6 million for after-school and summer programs in the city.

Port Covington demonstrates the potential to rebuild more than just infrastructure when government, industry, and community stakeholders step up to the challenge. Rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure is mandatory. So could be the opportunity to improve lives in the process.

America’s Report Card: A Wake-Up Call

In March, we learned that America’s 2017 grade for infrastructure is a D+. This barely passing grade, as determined by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), means that:

The infrastructure is in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life. A large portion of the system exhibits significant deterioration. Condition and capacity are of serious concern with strong risk of failure.

Curious how your state is doing?

Though not caused by deterioration, the recent highway collapse in Atlanta reminds us how devastating and far-reaching the loss of critical infrastructure can be. And while the complexities of addressing our D+ are daunting and the risks from inaction keep growing, within the developing plans and political debate about improving our nation’s infrastructure lies a golden opportunity.

The Opportunity To Rebuild Lives

Construction unemployment rates are at all-time lows, and yet the $4.6 trillion national investment required for infrastructure improvement over the next ten years will create a tremendous demand for new workers. Without a right-skilled workforce in place, projects could face missed deadlines and rising labor costs.

1., 4/17 | 2. Conor Sen, The Washington Post| 3. Nicholas Eberstadt, Men Without Work | 4. Orrell, Holzer and Doar, Getting Men Back to Work

The tight market for skilled construction workers creates an opportunity for training and employment within the local community and opens the door to workforce re-engagement for those who’ve been sidelined due to job loss, incarceration, or even societal pressures.

Such a “community covenant” can be formalized as a condition of project funding. For example, a project receiving public tax incentives would include a requirement for a certain percentage of project-related jobs to be reserved for residents of the city or region that funds the tax credits.

The same idea could be applied to a national, federally-financed or subsidized infrastructure program. Public or private entities that receive public funding or tax credits for infrastructure repair and construction could be required to recruit, train, and employ locally. Project-specific targets for long-term unemployed individuals could ensure that economic benefits reach marginalized populations.

It Takes Shared Commitment

Commercial enterprises need reliable, job-ready, professional and skilled-trade workers to build and maintain the infrastructure. Government and community entities need to prepare, educate, train, and upskill residents to successfully meet that demand. Each stakeholder group comes to the table with long lists of concerns, and a closer look at the issues highlights some of the interdependencies for overall project success and jobs creation.

As Port Covington ramps up, it’s hard not to see new life — and familiar faces —rising up along the shore.

Can Baltimore raise our D+ infrastructure grade? How did we get here, and where do we go now? Please comment below.

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