Word out of City Hall is that Richard Lincoln, VP of the Mandel Group, a wealthy and politically connected Milwaukee development firm, has been making the rounds lobbying against the proposed MORE Ordinance that would require hiring and contracting standards for development projects that receive $1 million or more in city financial assistance.
The idea that the citizens of Milwaukee have the right to expect that taxpayer subsidized projects employ local residents and meet certain wage standards is know as “community benefits.”
It’s not too hard to see why the Mandel Group is working so hard against community benefits (they have 5 lobbyists registered to work on it).
Mandel has received millions of dollars in public aid for several projects, from Library Hill a decade ago to the North End project currently under construction, and they want to keep it that way. Of course they don't want to come out and admit how profitable it been to be drinking from the public trough. So they are circulating a short paper by Mark Eppli, chair of the Real Estate Department at Marquette University, in their effort to discredit prevailing wage standard requirement legislation.
Eppli’s “paper” is a selective and superficial look at a handful of construction projects that doesn’t meet the rigor of an introductory economics course. The assertions that prevailing wage standards for construction workers contribute to unreasonably high project costs and exclude minority workers are not drawn from the data in the work that Eppli cites.
Beyond the bad science, there is at least the appearance that Eppli’s “paper” is research for hire.
Eppli runs Marquette’s ACRE program designed to attract more minorities into the real estate profession. The Mandel Group is the primary financial sponsor of the ACRE program. City leaders should be asking is this research for hire, with a foregone conclusion designed to satisfy a major funder?
The major source of the data that Eppli uses in his paper is Cross Management Services. Cross Management is a firm that monitors Disadvantaged Business Enterprise contracting requirements on construction projects that is frequently retained by the Mandel Group. Cross Management has a direct financial interest in providing data that supports Mandel’s opposition to community standards legislation. You simply don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
Common Council members should reject this “research” for the propaganda it is.
Whether it is federal stimulus funding or City of Milwaukee TIF money, taxpayers and city leaders have a right to expect that taxpayer supported projects hire local residents, build real career pathways, pay prevailing wages and contribute to long-lasting economic development outcomes for workers and the entire community.
For decades the city has subsidized private developments assuming that the benefits would trickle down to employees and Milwaukee's neighborhoods. Milwaukee's nationally high poverty rates (7th) and the alarming rate of African American male unemployment (46%) demonstrate the failure of this approach.
Big developers have had their way with TIF for the past decades. It's time for them to accept hiring and wage standards as part of any taxpayer supported deal. Otherwise they’re free to forgo the public money. If Mandel Group really wants to aid minority workers in the City, then pay them the prevailing wage for construction employment!
The standards contained in the MORE Ordinance are a step in this direction.