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Katrina Victims Can Help Rebuild the Gulf Coast

Tue October 25, 2005 - National Edition
Angela B. Hurni



Since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast states, there has been ample discussion on how to rebuild the devastated area and whether to rebuild it at all. Throughout this debate, there have been plenty of theories and proposals presented to the American people. The answer seems to be that rebuilding will occur, and this mostly will happen as a partnership between the government and private entities. One thing is certain, there are plenty of jobs to be had and many of them can be found in the construction industry.

The rescue-recovery phase has ended in the areas hit by Hurricane Katrina; now the next obstacle to overcome is dealing with the job recovery phase. Initial proposals coming from nonprofit organizations such as the Campaign for America’s Future and the NAACP, as well as from various politicians like former vice-presidential candidate, John Edwards, and Congressman Charlie Norwood of Georgia, have called for a revival of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

The CCC, established in 1933 by the U.S. Congress as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Program, organized unemployed males and put them to work helping conserve the country’s natural resources and infrastructure. The CCC, which Congress abolished in 1942, also provided vocational training to these unemployed single young men.

“We need a revival of the Civilian Conservation Corps from the 1930s for this emergency, in which we offer every able-bodied displaced person an immediate training wage on top of whatever other federal benefits they may be receiving,” Norwood wrote in his Sept. 14 weekly column. “Full-time participation should be mandatory.”

What actually is happening, to the dismay of many nonprofit organizations and politicians, is instead of a government-formed entity, the Gulf Coast will be rebuilt through “corporate sponsorships” and public-private partnerships.

The U.S. Department of Labor has been a key player during the job recovery phase by creating the Katrina Recovery Job Connection program and supplying grants worth millions of dollars to the affected states. The goal is to connect workers impacted by the devastation caused by the hurricane with employers who want to hire them. The program also aims to hire workers to help with cleanup efforts.

“Workers displaced by the hurricane are eager to get back to work and rebuild their lives,” said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. “We have created [a] new Internet resource to connect workers to employers who have jobs to give, including temporary jobs cleaning up and rebuilding devastated communities.”

The Katrina Recovery Job Connection Web site will assist three distinct groups: people seeking new, full-time employment either in their home state or a new state; people wanting to assist in the clean-up and rebuilding efforts through temporary employment; and employers who want to list jobs supporting the recovery efforts or who want to hire workers impacted by the hurricane.

“As people begin to rebuild their lives and homes, finding a good job will be a top priority,” said Emily Stover DeRocco, assistant secretary of labor for employment and training. “This new job site offers them a place to find employers eager to hire.”

Almost a month after the Web site was created, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a partnership with Milwaukee-based Manpower Inc. a private corporation that provides employment services, to help find new jobs for Mississippi workers who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

By combining the resources of the Department of Labor, including its One-Stop Career Center, and Manpower, the partnership will provide employment and training services to meet evacuees’ long-term career needs.

Additional situations where the government is teaming up with a private corporation can be found with The Shaw Group Inc. headquartered in Baton Rouge, LA. Shaw has contracts with both the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for recovery efforts in the hurricane-impacted areas.

“Shaw remains committed to the rapid recovery and rebuilding of Louisiana in the aftermath of the recent hurricanes,” said J.M. Bernhard Jr. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Shaw.

Its FEMA contract will provide design, construction, transportation, utilities and facilities management. Shaw has also contracted with the Army Corps to aid in recovery and rebuilding efforts by providing construction and related services. Shaw has one of the largest inventories of response equipment in the industry with more than 2,700 pieces of equipment and response vehicles valued at more than $100 million.

Eighty percent of The Shaw Group’s subcontractors currently working in Louisiana on the recovery and rebuilding efforts are Louisiana-based companies. Additionally, roughly 62 percent of its subcontractors are classified as small businesses and almost 30 percent of those are minority-owned.

“Our focus is to employ Louisiana contractors and small and minority-owned enterprises, and we are particularly committed to working with those companies and individuals who have been personally impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita,” Bernhard continued. “We will continue to seek out innovative ways to not only rebuild our infrastructure but to assist those most affected by this storm in rebuilding their lives.”

Like many other similar organizations, the Houston Chapter of Associated General Contractors has added recovery and reconstruction jobs to its Web site. At AGCConstructionjobs.org, hurricane victims and other job seekers can be linked to job opportunities in the local construction industry. CEG