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Job Hunt

The Hill District's community-benefits agreement (CBA) never guaranteed that the new Pittsburgh Penguins arena would produce jobs for the Hill. That may be just as well: So far, hardly any Hill residents have found work there -- though neighborhood leaders and team officials say they hope that will change. 

The CBA was established in 2008 by local politicians, the Penguins and residents. It was an effort to ensure the Hill benefited from the new Consol Energy Center and related developments taking place on its doorstep. Accordingly, the Pens committed to "first considering and interviewing for employment candidates that are Hill District residents" whenever job opportunities arose.

But at a Jan. 14 gathering, attendees learned that just 1 percent of the workers building the new arena actually live in the Hill District. (To date, the employees of more than 75 contractors and subcontractors have performed roughly 600,000 hours of construction labor at the arena.) Meanwhile, the Penguins have yet to hire any neighborhood residents for jobs with the team.

Officials from the Penguins and the Sports & Exhibition Authority (SEA) met with roughly 60 residents at Epiphany Church, updating them on the status of the project. But the 1 percent figure -- cited by the SEA -- disappointed some. 

"Just six months ago, we had 2 percent Hill participation on construction," Carl Redwood, convener of the Hill District Consensus Group, announced. "We're headed in the wrong direction."

No one expected residents to get many construction jobs: The CBA was signed after union contracts were already finalized. But the employment picture may not improve any time soon. 

Ken Nesbit, who coordinates the neighborhood's First Source Job Center, told attendees that he and his staff are working to help prepare workers for future jobs. The center, which was created by the CBA to help residents find work, is also meeting with team officials and various contractors. 

But when Hill District resident Kimberly Ellis asked how many neighborhood residents have been hired so far, Nesbit didn't answer directly. Two applicants from the Hill had been interviewed by the team, he said.

Ellis again asked how many residents had actually found jobs. 

"We're hopeful that graphic designers [from the Hill] will be hired," Nesbit said. He asked Ellis if he answered her question.

"I have the answer now," Ellis said.

Team officials confirm that, while there have been more than a half-dozen job openings in the Penguins operation itself, no Hill residents have been hired. 

"Unfortunately, we have not been able to find [a Hill resident] who met or exceeded [the qualifications] of other candidates," Penguins Vice President Travis Williams told City Paper after the meeting. "It's a very competitive process."

Williams said there have been only about six or eight job openings with the team since the Job Center opened unofficially in June. He said the center submitted roughly a half-dozen applications for the positions, but only two of the resumes were from Hill residents. (The center handles applications from job-seekers outside the neighborhood as well.) In each case, he said, a non-Hill candidate had superior qualifications.

Redwood isn't giving up. The Penguins broke ground on the 142-room Cambria Suites Hotel late last year, and once construction is completed, Redwood said half of the jobs it creates should go to neighborhood residents.

"We can't just keep saying we're going to try," he said. "We need to make sure that those permanent [hotel] jobs go to Hill residents."

Team officials say the law prohibits them from agreeing to Redwood's 50-percent target.

"Quotas are illegal these days," Williams said. While the Pens agreed to consider all local applicants seriously, he says, "You can't guarantee jobs. That was never a requirement of the CBA.

"We're working diligently to make sure they're aware of job openings," Williams added. "What we need to work on is getting qualified residents ready for these jobs."