Evanston, Northwestern announce joint workforce program

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro  announce  a joint program to provide residents with work opportunities on university construction projects.  | Joe Cyganowski/For Sun-Times Media
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro announce a joint program to provide residents with work opportunities on university construction projects. | Joe Cyganowski/For Sun-Times Media

Evanston and Northwestern University officials plan to partner on a work development program for residents that will initially employ 25 residents with the potential for more jobs in the future.

At Northwestern University’s Norris Student Center on Feb. 27, Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro, and Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl took turns talking about the pilot program, which will offer employment and apprenticeship opportunities to residents in construction jobs on campus.

Along with the partnership, Northwestern University’s Facilities Management Division is pledging to spend at least $1 million per year with local businesses.

Tisdahl came up with the idea while riding on the lakefront bike path last summer and noticing work going on the university’s many new buildings. With with local unemployment a concern, “I thought we need jobs, working on those buildings,” she said.

She recalled the “fabulous work,” of Evanston residents, minorities and women, on the successful, federally-funded Neighborhood Stabilization program, and saw a chance to replicate that success through a partnership with the university.

She approached Schapiro, with whom she has had a close working relationship since he became the school’s president in 2009.

“I had my facts. I had my pitch, and he just said ‘yes,’” she recalled. “Not only does this program connect Evanston residents with employment opportunities within the community,” but it builds a network of qualified talented workers to fill these positions for years to come.

Schapiro spoke of the synergy the city’s two major entities working together, can bring.

“Northwestern is strongly committed to being a good neighbor,” he said. “We’re proud of our cooperative work with the city of Evanston and other community partners. This new program is another example of our desire to have a positive impact on the residents of Evanston and the life of our community.”

Though aimed at skilled trades for workers on construction projects at the university, there will be other jobs – professional, administrative and non-skilled – which could be filled by residents.

An open call for Evanston residents to take part in the pilot program will go out in a few weeks. Residents will be invited to fill out an application to quality for the program. Potential candidates will be vetted by city staffers to determine eligibility.

The city would then provide a pool of qualified residents to Northwestern. The university will work with its contractors and subcontractors to ensure that residents are employed on appropriate construction projects to the extent possible. The university is responsible for the monitoring of the program.

Tisdahl said she was the one who proposed “we keep the numbers low” on the initial program, and then grow it from there.

“I want to make sure we provide the support needed to the 25 individuals in this project,” she said.

Both Tisdahl and Schapiro hinted at other efforts together.

In Feb. 26, during the city’s annual Springfield Day where officials’ pay visits to the capitol, Schapiro divulged that he brought the mayor into his meeting with NU alumnus Gov. Pat Quinn.

They pitched Quinn, who was enthusiastic about state assistance for the city’s reservoir, Schapiro said.

The city’s reservoir, which sits on the university’s campus, is in need of major renovation. A greater capacity reservoir is a key component in the city’s aim to create a significant revenue source through stepped-up water sales to other communities.

The two talked about their close partnership, both deftly stepping around a question about “Fair Share,” a movement that calls for the tax-exempt university to contribute more to the sometimes cash-strapped city.

Schapiro said that over his term and the mayor’s tenure there are more joint projects.

“We’re so strong together.’’

Tisdahl noted that “What we are doing is creating a better and better Town-Gown relations as time goes on.

“Northwestern is a leader in so many things. The city of Evanston is a leader in many areas as well. We should together become a leader in town-gown relations,” she said.


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