New Haven — Acuity Brands, with its wraparound view of the city from its 15th-floor home at the Century Tower Building, an engineering staff that is pulling in local talent, and its workers’ appreciation of the lifestyle amenities downtown, is a marketing dream for the city.
“We love it here,” said Frank Pelliccio, senior design engineer for the international lighting systems company that originally was Sensor Switch, a tech research and manufacturing firm in Wallingford. Bought out by Acuity, it spun off the core design staff to New Haven.
“All the knowledge workers (about 40 people) came to New Haven to a better-suited space,” Steve Voils, director of platform operations, said, when the manufacturing arm was split up among multiple locations.
It is one of dozens of companies and startups that occupy offices downtown and in other locations, such as Science Park and the NHV District, part of the millions in private investment in jobs and upscale apartments that has state officials looking to the city to lead the way in growth.
Like other urban centers across the country, however, not everyone is sharing in this growth. This story looks at that dichotomy and some of the programs aimed at bridging the divide.
Pelliccio and others at Acuity were also attracted to, and take advantage of, MakeHaven, a maker space downtown where engineers and tech workers come to play and recruit workers. It is an example of an amenity that feeds the continuing growth.
“There is always someone thinking of the next big thing,” Voils said. He said they go there to meet people from different backgrounds and help each other. “It’s a virtuous cycle.”
“Our intent is to grow our engineering staff, to bring more talent to this area. We have a long-term investment in being here,” Voils said.
Management pointed to Southern Connecticut State University, a local asset, as a source of recruits, another plus. Michael Harris, head of the Elm City Innovation Collaborative, found that the more local talent that is hired at a company, the more likely it will be to stay in the city as it continues to expand.
Michael Piscitelli, New Haven’s acting economic development administrator, said all these companies in close quarters creates a “deeper eco-system” with entrepreneurs sharing ideas.
This is singularly evident at District New Haven, where some 50 startups and established companies work at the technology and innovation campus on the 9-acre former bus company terminal that rivals the Silicon Valley for its amenities and community sharing values.
It is all part of New Haven’s growing business successes, where 4,282 more city residents were employed in March of this year than in January 2014; unemployment has been cut in half from 10.7% in 2014 to 3.5% as of July 2019; and the third-highest annual venture capital growth nationwide from 2013-18, according to the National Venture Capital Association.
There also are new apartments either approved or under construction, with the new boutique 108-room Blake Hotel open on High Street and the 72-room Graduate New Haven Hotel (formerly the Duncan Hotel) opened last week. Construction is in the planning for a Garden Hilton Hotel on Elm Street and a Choice Hotel off Route 34.
DataHaven, as part of its 2018 Community Wellbeing Survey, estimated that out of the 70,000 potential workers in New Haven, some 20,000, or 28%, were underemployed at various times last year. Mark Abraham and Aparna Nathan, in the summary of their report, said this means these individuals either wanted a paid job or were working part-time and needed full-time work.
The pair contend their analysis provides a more accurate picture of employment than state Department of Labor statistics that estimate there were some 3,300 unemployed New Haveners in 2018.
Further, the Connecticut Data Collaborative, using census figures from 2013-17, said 10.06% of the state’s population is below the poverty level, while that figure jumps to 25.6% in New Haven.
The median household income for the same period for Connecticut as a whole was $73,781, but $39,191 for New Haven; the per capita income measure is $41,365 for the state and $24,688 in New Haven.
To address this, the city and nonprofits, after tapping local, state and foundation resources, including the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven, and Yale University, have developed a number of strategies.
New Haven Works
Melissa Mason, Nakisha Jones and Honella Davis said they take their work personally.
Mason, executive director of New Haven Works, a jobs coaching agency put together by the city, Yale University and its unions in 2013 when unemployment was more than 10%, said their clients often are their neighbors and former classmates. All 10 staff members are city residents.
While there is a decrease in the official unemployment rate, the agency said what they see is a continuing flow of people who are underemployed, many from neighborhoods with high poverty rates.
“We have a real personal stake in seeing our neighbors and community members succeed in the new economy,” Mason said. “We have to keep doing this work because there are families in pockets of neighborhoods across the city who can’t make ends meet.”
Jones, the staff and program manager, as well as a job coach, who graduated from city schools, finds she is particularly connected to those seeking help. If they are not former classmates, they are the mothers of a classmate. She wants them to find a good job to not only take care of themselves, but their families long-term.
Jones said Yale New Haven Hospital offers a lot of entry-level jobs that help make a match with the 71 percent who have a GED or high school diploma, but no credential beyond that. Some 19 percent have an associate or bachelor’s degree; 5 percent of their clients have a master’s degree or doctorate.
Three-quarters of those who stop by their office are either unemployed or underemployed
She said they have a service and maintenance pipeline, construction pipeline and an administrative assistant pipeline.
“We have a real personal stake in seeing our neighbors and community members succeed in the new economy. We have to keep doing this work because there are families in pockets of neighborhoods across the city who can’t make ends meet.”
Executive Director of New Haven Works
Since it opened its doors in March 2013, some 35% have been hired by Yale University, the city’s largest employer, with 65% hired among its 57 partners who can tap into its list of pre-screened applicants. From 2013 until March 2019, Mason said, 1,351 people were placed in a job — some more than once — with the help of New Haven Works.
The placements are split almost evenly between men and women with 65% of its applicants black; 15% Latino; and 13% white.
It is not a training program, but rather provides one-on-one counseling for the 40 people enrolled each month, with 125 more residents pre-registering in that timeframe. It provides background checks; career planning and coaching; help with resumes, job applications and interview preparation; and keeps the members informed of potential jobs.
“New Haven Works has the expectation that we just need our members to have access to a job and not necessarily any skill building. They already have the skills,” Jones said.
Its mission statement is to “build a middle class in an urban center and improve economic stability in all communities by providing employers with a trained and qualified workforce and connecting New Haven residents to good jobs.”
But William Villano, executive director of the New Haven Workforce Alliance, said a lot of unemployment is tied to low skill levels in reading and math where workers need at least a ninth-grade competency to get into training programs.
One study took a sampling, over 12 years, of 13,500 unemployed persons from three categories. There were dislocated workers who lost jobs through a plant closing; representatives from the general adult population; and persons enrolled in Jobs First, the state’s welfare-to-work program.
Villano said it found, on average, that almost 60% of the dislocated workers, 75% of the general adult population and 80%of those in Jobs First showed deficits in basic math and reading skills.
“These numbers are staggering,”Villano said. “For a lot of people, there is an academic barrier to advancing.”
The director said these categories make up a good portion of the individuals who are still unemployed. Added to the skills deficit, they often have a sporadic work history or one that consists of low-paying retail work.
“Even though the kind of robot apocalypse that people are predicting isn’t upon us now and probably isn’t going to be for a while, the level of technical skills that people need for a lot of current positions is higher. The bar is being raised,” he said.
“If AI (artificial intelligence) or automation hasn’t replaced your job, you need to manage something technical to do your job,” he said. The director said the options for persons with low skill levels continue to tighten, with repetitive work now automated or artificial intelligence supplanting positions in such sectors as finance, legal services, medicine and manufacturing.
Exacerbating the situation is limited public transportation options for people who don’t have cars.
A report in 2014 produced by DataHaven, when the unemployment rate was much higher, found that persons with access to cars had an unemployment rate of 10%, while the rate for persons without cars was 35%. Unemployment has dropped significantly, but the transportation factor remains a problem, Villano said.
Skill Up is a state supported training program geared to manufacturing jobs that provides workers with entry level skills where they can get the balance of the training they need on the job. The work, however, requires a basic aptitude for math and spatial reasoning.
Villano said once someone goes through the five-week intensive manufacturing program, they are a much better recruit than if a company went elsewhere to find staffing. Given that manufacturing has been the leading sector in job growth for the past several years, he said the training is an important initiative.
The director said the community college system does a good job training residents for manufacturing jobs, but it is only turning out about 600 to 700 graduates a year. He said the manufacturers themselves are realizing they have to engage in training. Skill Up was adopted to accelerate that training pace to 10,000 people over four years.
In the past 21/2 years, 1,200 graduates have been placed in jobs with more than 180 manufacturers, Villano said, while the state projects that it will need 25,000 skilled manufacturing workers over the next decade.
For those lacking math, reading and computer skills, free training is available through nonprofits listed on the Workforce Alliance website. The Workshop Alliance also matches people with a number of specific industries and careers beyond manufacturers.
Ann Hamilton, communications director at the alliance, said if someone doesn’t make the grade when they test for Skill Up, the alliance offers a refresher course or a boot camp and candidates then can retake the test. The boot camp is a quick, 2-week endeavor.
“It works for those people whose deficiency is less,” Villano said. If they fall far below what they need, the recommendation is to go to adult education classes, but not everyone wants to go back to school.
“The bottom line is there are so many options it is just a matter of taking that first step, getting started and sticking with it, because there are jobs at the end,” Hamilton said.
Housing Authority Of New Haven
Villano said they are beginning to work with the Housing Authority of New Haven and New Haven Adult Education to keep people engaged. “We get a lot of people who begin the process, but don’t stay with it.” Villano said. He hopes they can concentrate on the residents in one of the authority’s facilities and use case managers to give them extra support.
Karen DuBois-Walton, executive director of the Housing Authority, said of the 6,000 low-income families she serves, between those living in apartments the authority owns, as well as those using Section 8 vouchers, a significant portion need academic skills coaching, a GED and specific job training.
If you take out the disabled and elderly tenants, the average income for the clients able to work and housed by the authority is $16,000 for a family of three, DuBois Walton said.
“When you are operating with so little income, things that might be an inconvenience for someone with a little bit more income can derail them, such as a car breaking down or a child care arrangement falling through,” she said.
The authority looks to get tenants into all opportunities that come along, which includes the warehouse jobs with Amazon that are now being filled and training at Jordan’s Furniture when that opened.
The authority itself is also taking another approach by bringing in a vendor who helps tenants start a business. This includes a tenant who now owns his own electrical firm, a woman who offers bookkeeping services and a third tenant who does tax credit compliance work for companies after becoming an expert when she did the work at the authority.
“When you are operating with so little income, things that might be an inconvenience for someone with a little bit more income can derail them, such as a car breaking down or a child care arrangement falling through.”
Executive Director, Housing Authority
As one measure of people in need, DuBois Walton points to her family waiting list, which is closed at 10,000 requests. She said a federal study found that only one out of four families eligible for housing supports actually gets them. Based on that, she extrapolated that there are probably 18,000 families that could be served if the authority had more units for them,
She said the job indicators do not give the full picture when you see that wages since the 1960s have gone up by 6 percent for this population, while housing costs have increased 65 percent.
“So much of what people can get employed to do is not lifting them out of poverty,” DuBois-Walton said.
She said there is a stereotype of the tenants who live in public housing.
“The vast majority of them are employed and most of them are working multiple jobs. We just have an economy of low-wage, low-benefited jobs that people are working, often two of those jobs, which often doesn’t leave time to join a training program,” DuBois-Walton said.
She agrees the growing economy downtown is wonderful, but she wants to see it tied to a real public benefit.
“I love that there is a new building going up across the street from me. I wish that there was affordable housing in it,” DuBois-Walton said. She was referring to the 269-unit Audubon Square on Orange and Audubon streets being constructed for Spinnaker Real Estate Partners.
She said it has become untenable in so many corners of the country and that is evident in the number of presidential candidates who five years ago would not have been talking about income supports or taxes on the very rich.
The income disparities are what is forcing the conversation, she said, particularly in the area of housing, where she was a major contributor to the city’s affordable housing task force.
“I don’t want a city where all the wealthy folks live downtown and two other neighborhoods and all the poverty is concentrated in five other neighborhoods or so,” she said.
For decades there was a toxic relationship between Yale University and its Unite HERE locals representing clerical and technical workers, as well as the trades and custodial services, with strikes and rallies that would engulf the city.
Labor peace has been the rule in recent years, with unions now focused on jobs for residents in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. The university and the unions agreed on a goal of 1,000 jobs for city residents in a 2015 agreement, with 500 of them from neighborhoods of need by April 2019.
This summer the unions and the universityreached a new deal creating about a dozen training and hiring programsaimed at unemployed and underemployed residents in low-income parts of New Haven, such as Fair Haven, Dixwell, Newhallville and the Hill.
The aim is to help those residents acquire job skills to then qualify for the jobs. The programs don’t sunset but the goal is to hire 300 low-income residents by the end of 2021.
Some of the specifics include a new licensed trades apprentice program in collaboration with the Eli Whitney Technical School, as well as training for unlicensed painters, masons and carpenters.
New Haven Works members from these neighborhoods will get $4,000 from Yale for tuition costs at Gateway in skills needed for clerical and technical workers. The university also will give them a $1,000 stipend and will hire 75% of them.
Yale and Local 35 will create a cook’s apprentice program and will expand Yale Catering; the university promised to hire a certain percentage of New Haven residents on large construction jobs.
As part of the regular course of business, about 6,000 New Haven residents work at Yale. University spokesperson Karen Peart said New Haven startups with ties to Yale employ more than 1,000 people in the city, while in recent years more than 130 companies based on ideas from Yale faculty and students have sprung up.
In January, Quantum Circuits, a startup founded by Yale investigators, opened in the city; Arvinas, a drug development company founded by a Yale investigator, now employs more that 100 people in Science Park; while Biohaven Pharmaceuticals has more than 75 workers here.
Dan Jusino said for most of his long career in prison re-entry programs, he was one of the misguided.
Like most of those programs, Jusino used to believe in the “rapid attachment to the workforce” model, which posits that giving people employment is the most important condition to cutting the recidivism rate.
“We believed that if someone comes in and we brush him up, clean him up and give him a few things, he is good,” Jusino said.
But after looking at best practice programs across the country with John Padilla, he realized, “I have never seen a study, by anyone, that has demonstrated that a job keeps somebody out of jail. Ninety percent of the people who come here have had multiple jobs. It has never kept them out of jail.”
On any given day, in the unassuming work space off Grand Avenue, former offenders arrive to pick up their assignments as construction and landscape work crews in New Haven under the aegis of Emerge, the company Jusino founded in 2010 to compete in the marketplace for that work.
“Because we have the ability to put people to work, we blackmail them into doing things they don’t want to do. We leverage that,” Jusino said. “What is it that they don’t want to do? Education. Mental health services.”
He said the ex-offenders come for the jobs, which consume 24 hours a week, but the remaining 14 are for counseling and education. To get paid for one, you have to commit to the other.
Jusino said, adapting the Kahn Academy education method to their needs, they have been able to move the clientele one grade level in math and reading after 40 hours on task, versus a year of study in a traditional model. The goal is to get to twelfth-grade competency.
On the mental health end, he said their problems go back to traumatic childhoods.
He said Emerge’s programs get the clients to understand that they are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
“You don’t grow up in our communities, you don’t go to prison, you don’t get shot, you don’t get raped in jail and it doesn’t impact you,” he said. Jusino said they address this at Emerge in the context of how their behavior manifests itself in the workplace.
Jusino said they now use a results-based accountability model, versus anecdotal references and the logic model.
He said the job training is important, but its goals are “life, liberty and economic independence.”
Jusino said they have only lost three former inmates to violence in 11 years. On the issue of freedom, the executive director said the recidivism rate is 14 percent compared to the state, which is 56 percent after one year. After three years it is 16 percent for Emerge vs. 76 percent recidivism for the state correction system.
In another area, 75 percent leave Emerge employed and a year later, 72 percent continue to have a job, Jusino said.
He said the program takes in about 60 new participants throughout the year where most use it for nine months. In addition he said there are 10 to 20 graduates who come back if they have lost a job and are looking for new employment.
Jusino said it is open entrance-open exit throughout the year, except for November and December when the work dries up.
Two young Yale University graduates have put together Collab, an accelerator program for Connecticut entrepreneurs with a particular focus on the residents of New Haven.
The idea is to create networks for talented people to advance a unique business idea for the improvement of their own livelihoods, and ultimately for job creation.
This interview with co-founders Catherine Smith and Margaret Lee took place at Ives Squared at the New Haven Free Public Library, 133 Elm St.
It is also where they hold 30-minute sessions for potential entrepreneurs to pitch their idea and answer questions on the mission, marketing and maintenance of the plan. As an alternative they can arrange a 30-minute phone interview. This is open to everyone.
Smith and Lee said the goal of Collab is to create “a diverse and inclusive entrepreneurial community” and it encourages applications from people of color, women, immigrants and LGBTQ communities. It is open to nonprofits, for-profits and hybrid models.
The accelerator, which is by application, aims to inspire confidence through its weekly workshops and one-on-one meetings. It also works with the applicants to build relationships with funders and advisers.
It consists of a 12-week education program, with free child care, transportation and interpreters, if necessary. There is also $1,000 to help with costs; one-on-one coaching , a mentor, connections to fundraisers, technical assistance and a pitch day when they talk in front of investors.
The application and the rules for both programs can be found athttps://collabnewhaven.org/collab-accelerator-2019.
It is based on the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale where Lee worked after college. Both women graduated from the university. They were able to get funding through the Innovation Places Grant.
Focusing on early stage proposals, they are entering their sixth cohort. In the last fiscal year, 573 people had attended their events; 246 received one-on-one coaching. A total of 241 took part in the 12-week program and tapped into $35,500 in funding.
The Cities Project, a collaboration between CT Mirror, Connecticut Public Radio, Hearst CT, The Hartford Courant, Republican-American of Waterbury, Hartford Business Journal, and Purple States, will publish periodic articles exploring challenges and solutions related to revitalizing Connecticut’s cities. Visit THECITIESPROJECT.NEWS.