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Help Wanted

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The Hill District's First Source Job Center held its grand opening on Aug. 25, and already it's placed a handful of applicants in new jobs. And already, community leaders are expressing concerns that it should be doing more. 

The job center was created as a result of a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) reached between the Penguins, the One Hill Coalition, and the city and county last summer. It's one part of a plan to ensure that Hill District residents -- who have been left out of previous urban-renewal efforts -- share in the benefits created by the new Penguins hockey arena and a 28-acre development site nearby. But even with the job center, some are worried residents could fall through the cracks all over again. 

"We need to make the whole process transparent, [because] it's not at this point," says Carl Redwood, convener of the Hill District Consensus Group and chairman of the One Hill Coalition. "The First Source Center has to sit down [with the Penguins] and hammer out this transparency [issue]."  

Redwood and others say it's not enough for the Penguins to simply forward hiring notices to the center, as the CBA requires, so that Hill District residents get the first crack at applying. They want to be able to monitor the hiring process to see who gets interviewed, and who gets called back. 

"There needs to be some tracking in place," says Ken Nesbit, the job center's coordinator. "When we send people [to the Penguins], we want to know when interviews are scheduled and what the results are." Nesbit says he would like to negotiate a referral system, whereby the job center can send qualified job candidates to the Penguins and follow the application process. 

For the past two months, Nesbit says, he's been trying to set up meetings with the Penguins to discuss creating a tracking system. "But it's been like pulling teeth," he says.

"We're certainly receptive to having full transparency," says Ron Porter, senior consultant for the Penguins. "We need to have that meeting. It just hasn't happened yet, but it's not because of any mal-intent." 

Thus far, Nesbit says, the Penguins have submitted one job opening to the First Source Center. But job notices are coming in from outside the Hill District, and so are applications from people seeking work. Currently, Nesbit says there are nearly 190 people registered with the center, roughly 80 of whom are Hill District residents. Of those, five registrants -- three of whom are from the Hill -- have found work with the center's assistance.

Neighborhood leaders expect job opportunities to increase significantly once development around the arena starts. The Penguins have plans to build a hotel and other attractions near the new facility. Redwood says there's no reason why the hockey club can't set aside half of the jobs produced by the hotel for Hill residents.

"We think that's very reasonable," says Redwood, adding that he'd like to see 50 percent of both the hotel's construction and service jobs promised to the neighborhood. "It's the right thing to do."

Legally, however, Porter says Redwood's wish is unreasonable.

"It's unrealistic to have some sort of quota," he says. "There are legal things that would get in our way."

"They can't say 'quota,'" Redwood counters, "but they can make it happen."

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