A local real estate firm is keeping its commitment to hire locally for the ongoing redevelopment of the former Domino Sugar Factory site in Williamsburg.
Two Trees Management presented a $50,000 check to St. Nicks Alliance last Wednesday afternoon to support its construction training program.
David Lombino, managing director at Two Trees, said their partnership with St. Nicks formed during the approval process to build the massive 11-acre, 2,800-unit residential campus. Along with affordable housing, parks and commercial space, local elected officials and community leaders pushed Two Trees to invest in local hiring for construction jobs.
With the project’s first development at 325 Kent Avenue, Two Trees and its subcontractors hired 31 graduates of St. Nicks’ Skilled Build training program. For their second building at 260 Kent Avenue, the developer will take on another 40 graduates to help construct the tower.
“Those are good paying jobs, and can hopefully lead to a career for some young people in the construction business,” Lombino said.
The first of five buildings, 325 Kent is 16 stories high and features 522 apartments, 104 of which are affordable. Two Trees received 87,000 applications for those 104 affordable units.
The development has an elevated courtyard overlooking the East River, Manhattan skyline and Brooklyn waterfront. The project includes office and retail space and a new six-acre park expected to open later this year.
The second tower, 260 Kent, will also be mixed-use, featuring 330 apartments, 20 percent of which will be affordable. Three other buildings are planned for the Williamsburg waterfront.
Lombino, who called it a “worthy endeavor,” said Two Trees intends to employ local workers to help construct every building in the development. The firm will also encourage its retail tenants to hire locally when possible.
“We’re our own general contractor, so we have a real connection with the workers we hire through subcontractors and our own company,” he said. “We have the ability to shape a little bit of how that workforce looks like and who makes it up.
“Reserving those slots for people in the neighborhood seems like it makes a ton of sense. It’s a win-win,” Lombino added. “It connects us deeper to the neighborhood, and it can result in better outcomes for a lot of people. It’s the right thing to do.”
In addition to hiring local workers, Two Trees partnered with St. Nicks in 2016 to help launch the Skilled Build program. According to Larry Rothchild, director of workforce development with St. Nicks Alliance, Two Trees provided insight to help develop the training for construction workers.
The St. Nicks Alliance board initially contributed funds to get the program up and running. But thanks to recent grants from Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and support from Con Edison and the Department of Labor, Skilled Build has taken off.
Rothchild said the $50,000 from Two Trees, with another $50,000 to come next year, will go a long way to make the program a success.
“This additional funding helps us be less reliant on the board,” he said.
St. Nicks’ workforce development unit offers programs to both adults and youth on environmental remediation, commercial truck driving, information technology and health care. But their construction program is the most popular program.
Rothchild said part of the reason is its high placement rate. Last year, St. Nicks placed 98 percent of its participants into construction jobs. In 2016, they placed 87 percent of their students. Overall, the program has placed 112 residents with jobs.
Another reason is that residents see how much development is going on in north Brooklyn. When there’s construction, there are jobs, he said.
“It’s exciting for people,” he said. “But we also try to convey what the real career pathways are, what a real day looks like, and what your first job is going to look like.”
St. Nicks screens participants after an information session to make sure they have the right reading and math levels, and to see if they’re a good fit for the program. When they see a serious commitment, they allow the participant to join the training program.
Once they’re in, the participants receive two weeks of training on workplace success, including job readiness, interview skills and time management. Rothchild said that’s especially important for construction jobs.
“If they have to be at the project at seven, we want them there at 6:45,” he said. “Those expectations, we set in our own workplace success class.”
Rothchild also touted the program’s close relationships to both developers and subcontractors. With the Domino Sugar Factory project, Rothchild said the job supervisor on site lets them know when there is a need for more workers. That’s when St. Nicks send the candidates that are the best fit.
“Because we work closely, we go to the site regularly, we know what they’re looking for and who would be a good match,” he said.
Every employer has different needs and timelines. Some recruit monthly at the training program, while others prefer to speak to the participants after they graduate. What’s important is keeping constant communication with everyone, Rothchild said.
Skilled Build has three or four construction cohorts a year. Rothchild said they line up the six-week program to coincide with when there is usually large employer demand, such as in the spring. They will start another cohort in April, and another in August or September.
The program also offers a variety of certifications, including OSHA 30, flagger and scaffolding support, FDNY fireguard-60, and the 80-hour NCCER credential.
“Not every training provider offers all those things, that prepares them pretty well for the workplace,” he said. “It markets them to work in different phases of a project to get them hired.”
Rothchild said St. Nicks’ relationship with Two Trees is an example of a community benefits agreement “that really works.” Not only do they help fund and offer insight into Skilled Build, but they also joined a business council they launched in June. Other members include local developers like Heritage Equity Partners, Galaxy General Contracting and Mega Contracting.
“The financial support is huge, but they help in a lot of other ways,” Rothchild said. “We need more employers in the community to be working in this type of relationship because not only are we training local, but we’re hiring local too.”