Editor’s update: On Aug. 3, the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission terminated its Economic Development Agreement with the Electric Works project, withdrawing $65 million in public funding from the now-$280 million project. However, RTM Ventures, owner of the former General Electric complex, said it is hoping to still close the deal with the city.
As founder and CEO of Joshua’s Hand, Cedric Lee Walker Sr. is more than just a little interested in exactly how the Electric Works redevelopment is actually going to get built.
His group, which was formed to help minority- , women- and veteran-owned companies get more business, is hoping to play a key role in the building of the major redevelopment near downtown Fort Wayne.
Toward that end, Walker’s group helped host a recent informational meeting among builders, developers and possible contractors at the very site where construction is scheduled to begin in a few months.
“We are thrilled to share the community’s vision for Electric Works,” said Kevan Biggs, a partner with RTM Ventures, and president of Biggs Development, as he opened the meeting, “and to play a role in creating these opportunities for minority- , women- , and veteran-owned businesses.”
Larry Weigand, head of Weigand Construction, noted that building such an expansive project without involving those who need help the most seemed counterintuitive.
“Why have a $200 million development in Fort Wayne and not use it for workforce development?” asked Weigand, CEO of Weigand Construction, during the session.
As for Joshua’s Hand, their story actually goes back to 2011, when members of the local Missionary Baptist Church decided to form a group to promote minority- and women-owned businesses. Not long after, a sub-group, Joshua’s Works, was born to help such firms better compete in the construction field.
Walker noted that when one of the leaders of the Electric Works project found out about how Joshua’s Hand recently helped build several homes around town, he wanted them to be part of Electric Works, as well.
“He saw one of our old projects,” Walker said. “He saw that we took on a contract to build 25 homes in different areas of the city.
“And he saw that we used 97% minority workers and Section 3 workers. And the construction was done on time, under budget, and the homes were all of the highest quality.”
Walker said he hopes his group also can help out some smaller, minority-owned contractors that may not have the wherewithal to bid on large projects, like Electric Works.
“Normally, on such projects, most minority contractors don’t have the capacity to bid,” Walker noted. “So, all of us are putting our heads together to figure out how we can break these packages down – you might partner with a larger contractor, or maybe get together with another small contractor to do the job together.”
The recent meeting at the Electric Works campus helped inform community members of the opportunities the upcoming project holds for women, minorities, and veterans who may be going through difficult times.
Representatives of the development team held the informational meeting at the old General Electric gymnasium, with folding chairs spaced at least 6 feet from each other around the hardwood floor to host the roughly 50 folks in attendance.
The Electric Works project is the planned multi-million-dollar redevelopment of the old General Electric campus south of downtown Fort Wayne on Swinney Avenue. Several major tenants already have signed up to lease space on the reworked property, including Do It Best hardware stores, which plans to relocate their headquarters there.
“It’s a lot of work, and it’s difficult to find people to fill these jobs,” Biggs said. “These people have been left out of a lot of opportunities, and that’s what we’re trying to fix.
“It’s not just about the larger business plan, but it’s a way to develop this as a pathway for people like this to enter the construction trade.”
Developers say the project will generate about $300 million in economic impact during its multi-year construction, and possibly pump roughly $400 million more into the economy when Phase 1’s 700,000-square-foot space opens in 2022.
The meeting in Building 23 of the campus July 28 was meant to inform several groups that the developers are encouraging to get involved with the project, including minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses. There to provide an overview of the upcoming development were representatives from Weigand Construction, Pure Construction, and RTM Ventures, developers of the deal.
“This is a much different process than what we usually see,” said Larry Weigand, CEO of Weigand Construction during the meeting. “Since this is a voluntary program, we wanted to see how many people came out for this.”
Biggs, one of the project’s developers, said with the dearth of people filling construction jobs these days, it wasn’t just the right thing to do; it was the necessary thing to do.
“This is not just a good-intentions initiative,” Biggs said, “but, it’s very required because construction businesses are struggling to find talent.
“It’s a lot of work, and it’s difficult to find people to fill those jobs.”