© 2019 Thad Williamson. Authorized and Paid For By Thad Williamson For Richmond City Council.

  • Thad Williamson

Fifty Fixes for the Fifth: Building Community Wealth in the 5th District!

Fifty Fixes for the Fifth, #26-30: Building Community Wealth in the 5th

Expanding access to economic opportunity for 5th District residents is a central theme in my campaign, and it’s something I have been working on for years in Richmond through my work to promote community wealth building as a people-centered, holistic approach to helping individuals, families, and neighborhoods achieve economic stability. This edition of Fifty Fixes for the Fifth focuses on practical strategies to begin connecting youth and adults to jobs in the 5th District, starting in 2020.

#26. Expand Workforce Development Centers of the Office of Community Wealth Building into the 5th District, on both sides of the river. The Office of Community Wealth Building takes a holistic approach to workforce development, aimed at identifying barriers to employment and developing a specific plan by which participants can obtain living wage employment and achieve financial stability over time. In the last fiscal year, some 600 participants receiving intensive support obtained employment, and thousands more residents attended an OCWB job fair, training session, or related program. This represents significant growth since the program’s inception five years ago and significant progress towards the stated goal of helping 1,000 City residents a year out of poverty.

As the first director of OCWB (2014-2016) I am deeply proud of this work, but I also realize that many residents in the 5th District aren’t aware of the initiative or how to access it. A major, year one goal for me on City Council will be to find the funding to allow OCWB to expand its physical presence into the 5th District on both sides of the river, ideally with locations in Randolph and Swansboro, so residents can easily access the support services, programs, and job fairs OCWB offers.

#27. Expand youth employment and training programs through the Mayor’s Youth Academy and similar programs, and get more businesses in the 5th District to commit to hiring youth.

A major concern I heard all summer long in the community while knocking doors is the need for more summertime programs for youth in the 5th District. We need to set a community goal of every child having something productive to do every summer, and we need to expand opportunities for high school-aged youth to gain employment or pre-employment experience.

The Mayor’s Youth Academy offers one such model, but it needs more support so more students can be enrolled. I will support expansion of the Mayor’s Youth Academy and I will encourage more 5th District businesses in Carytown and elsewhere to participate in the program as employers.

#28. Strengthen the pipeline of high school students and recent graduates into apprenticeship programs

Hundreds of teenagers aged 16-19 in the City of Richmond are neither enrolled in school nor employed. That fact is a symptom of our educational failures, but it’s also a cause of future economic distress. We can help address this major challenges by strengthening connections between high schools and trade apprenticeship programs such as the Carpenters Union Training Center in Ashland.

Every RPS high school graduate should leave school with a clear plan for the future; for many that will involve a two-year or a four-year college, but for others it could be an apprenticeship or training program. Investments in supporting the costs of an apprenticeship or training program for recent graduates would be money well spent: the opportunity to go into a trade, build skills and certifications, and beginning to earn a substantial wage can be the difference between finding a successful pathway to economic stability and an adulthood on the economic margins. Richmond, whether through public or private funds, should invest in a “thirteenth grade” for its graduates that are not college-bound, to be sure as many as possible have the resources and support needed to participate in a trade training program or similar career-building pathway.

#29. Assure future economic development projects involving construction contain Project Labor Agreements to promote fair labor practices and family-sustaining wages

I am strongly pro-labor, and I am extremely proud to have the support of IBEW Local 666 and the KML Regional Council of Carpenters. But Virginia is a right-to-work state, making this a tough environment for unions to flourish in. One important tool to help defend labor rights, prevent wage theft, and promote family-sustaining wages is the Project Labor Agreement—an upfront agreement between developers and labor representatives (unions) on wages and work conditions. A Project Labor Agreement can both make sure that development projects involving construction treat labor fairly but also assure high quality of work performed and timely completion of projects. As a City Council member, I will fight to assure that Project Labor Agreements are part of any economic development initiative involving City resources.

#30. Support social enterprise development and robust workforce pipeline using VCU and VCU Health System as anchor institutions

Here’s the great opportunity still waiting to Richmond to build community wealth: a comprehensive commitment by our largest employers, such as VCU and VCU Health System, to deliberately create pipelines to employment for city residents and to support social enterprise development in our low-wealth neighborhoods. It should be clear to every high school student and recent graduate the steps needed to get a job at VCU Health, and VCU Health should cover most of the costs needed to establish a pipeline of City residents into such jobs.

The concept of anchor-based social enterprise development is that larger institutions (public, nonprofit, or private) commit to using some of their procurement spending to support emerging social enterprises (such as cooperatives and B-Corporations) that are specifically oriented to providing employment and ownership opportunities for low-wealth Richmond residents. The Office of Community Wealth Building has completed a feasibility study of this strategy, but more investment in the strategy is needed to put concept into practice in Richmond, following the model of Cleveland and numerous other cities.

A firm commitment to a workforce pipeline and to social enterprise development ought to be an integral part of a comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding between VCU and the City of Richmond, covering a range of issues.

For more on why we need such an MOU, check back in early next week for Fifty Fixes for the Fifth, #36-40, which will focus on neighborhood issues in the 5th District. Next up however is a look at housing needs in the 5th District; stay tuned for Fifty Fixes for the Fifth, #31-35, coming up Monday!