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A Piece of the Economic Pie

Nyasha Harley, a graduate of the Excel Institute, completes a tune up on a MetroAccess van. (By Nikita Stewart)

The issue that seems to be crystallizing in the District lately is how to get more residents in on what remains of the economic boon that the city has experienced in recent years.

D.C. Appleseed focused on the working poor this week in a major report, noting that for the District that population is minority with mostly single-women-headed households. It called for training workers so they can be prepared for those better paying jobs that continue popping up, often funded with taxpayer dollars such as Nationals Park. The report has a number of initiatives, including calling for a District community college.

The report got a strong "second" from Council member Kwame Brown (D-At Large) who recently won approval of legislation that would require companies with District contracts to face audits to see just how they're doing in providing opportunities for District residents.

And just yesterday, George Starke, a former Redskin and one of the founders of the decade-old
Excel Institute, a nonprofit that trains troubled young people to become mechanics, was at the council unsuccessfully lobbying for a contract for his new for-profit company, Excel Associates. Excel, as Nikita Stewart wrote, wants the job of maintaining the District's police car fleet. Starke didn't win the contract because his company was deemed too small.

But by the end of the day Cincinnati-based First Vehicle, which did win the contract, is now going to be held accountable for hiring District residents, with some Excel graduates among them.

Appleseed's Executive Director Walter Smith and Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, which co-authored the report, told D.C. Wire this week that they know there are hurdles ahead but are still optimistic about this employment issue.

Smith said he believes the reception so far has been positive among the city's officialdom.

Appleseed also will be pushing for a workforce intermediary, an outside entity whose job would be to look at the economic landscape, see what job opportunities are coming down the pike and then figure out what kind of training people would need to get those jobs. He also said Appleseed is working with Brookings to pull together elected officials and school and business leaders in a forum to discuss employment and job training.

Noted Lazere, "We will continue to be vocal about this... and find people in the mayor's office and the city council who are willing," to lead on the issue. Much in the way, he said, that Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray has taken up Pre-K for young children and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's has taken over schools.

"We're looking for a champion," he said.

D.C. Wire will be watching to see how it all unfolds.

By Marcia Davis  |  April 16, 2008; 3:45 PM ET
Categories:  Economic Development  
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