Roughly 50 Hill District residents have already found jobs at the Consol Energy Center, neighborhood leaders recently announced -- and while that's short of the community's goals, it's a hopeful sign that history won't be repeating itself.
During an Aug. 13 Hill District Consensus Group meeting, Ken Nesbit, who heads the Hill District's First Source Center, said two major employers have hired a total of 169 workers to fill a variety of part-time jobs at the Consol Energy Center, which opens this week. Of those hires, he announced, 46 are from the Hill.
"Those numbers aren't bad," Nesbit told roughly 25 community members who attended the monthly meeting. "But we hope they'll increase."
Created as part of a 2008 agreement between city officials and community leaders, the First Source Center is designed to help Hill residents find work. Since its opening last August, "There's been some good, some bad, some ups and downs," Nesbit acknowledged.
In January, officials from the Sports & Exhibition Authority reported that just 1 percent of the construction workers building the Consol Energy Center were Hill residents. With Hill District leaders advocating for a 50 percent hiring rate at the arena and nearby development, some began questioning the job center's value.
More recent employment figures, however, suggest those concerns may become less pressing. "Things are moving in a positive direction," says Carl Redwood, convener of the Consensus Group.
Citing numbers supplied by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Aug. 3, Nesbit announced that 100 of the arena hires thus far were made by Aramark. He said the food-service company hired 37 Hill District residents to work as cooks and waiters. As union employees, those workers will earn roughly $11-13 an hour.
Thirty-one of the neighborhood hires came through the First Source Center, which processed more than 200 applications from Hill residents. According to Nesbit, Aramark will soon announce an additional 100 hires to fill concession and vendor jobs at the arena.
"We have to keeping pushing on [jobs]," Redwood said at the meeting. While the numbers aren't bad, he added, "It's not 50 percent."
SMG, which employs ticketers, janitors and ushers, recently hired 69 employees for part-time jobs, which will pay $11-12 an hour. After reviewing 391 applications -- 51 from the First Source Center -- Nesbit said the company hired nine Hill residents. (The Penguins report says 12 others were offered jobs, but either couldn't be reached or didn't show up for work.) SMG plans to hire 30 more employees soon.
Another employer, U.S. Security, hired five of 21 Hill District applicants to work as security guards at the arena. (The Penguins report does not disclose the total number of security hires.)
"There is serious progress," says Pittsburgh United Executive Director Barney Oursler, who has worked closely with the First Source Center. "It looks like the Pens are responding honorably to their agreement" by making sure employers seriously consider job applicants from the Hill.
This fall, the First Source Center will host a job fair for Hill District residents interested in working at the Cambria Suites Hotel being built next to the arena. Once the hotel opens, Nesbit said, 35 full-time jobs will be made available.
"We have to really start honing in on other jobs" outside the arena, Redwood says. "The focus is really on the hotel."