Andrew Trzaska | December 20, 2010
Over 100 local construction workers could have a new work opportunities across the state lines in the coming year thanks to a new agreement between Muskegon’s own HER Construction Company and an a Cincinnati energy group.
All parties involved met to sign the agreement at Muskegon Community College on Friday afternoon. Those present included representatives from the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance, construction worker unions, and the Muskegon-based HERCO family of companies. HERCO’s President Phyllis Loudermill Watson co-signed the agreement and described the process towards getting to that stage as a “journey”.
Friday’s signing was mostly ceremonial and short on specifics, but stressed the opportunities this agreement could create.
The Cincinnati Greater Energy Alliance received $17 million in funding from the Department of Energy to weatherize buildings in the City of Cincinnati. Weatherization includes improving seals and insulation around windows, doors, pipes and roofs, among other things.
HERCO has developed its workforce by training minority and disadvantaged workers in the construction trade skills. Among their training includes weatherization work, which led them to form the partnership with the GCEA. Their partnerships with Construction Laborers’ Union Local 355 and Muskegon Community College have aided in this, and training has expanded beyond Muskegon to include workers in Kalamazoo.
Dan Fingas, Weatherization Marketing Representative for the Great Lakes Region Organizing Committee, explained how the groups from southern Ohio and Muskegon got connected. He stated that earlier this year he received a call from his contacts in Cincinnati about finding trained weatherization workers, and he recommended HERCO for the job.
Watson said the agreement between the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance and HERCO could create up to 200 jobs, with some coming from the Cincinnati area and the rest coming from Michigan.
HERCO and its partners in the deal were not concerned that its workers will choose to leave Muskegon now that they are trained and ready to work virtually anywhere. Instead, their employment out of town will bring stability and dollars back to Muskegon.
Steve Roomsburg, Vice President of the Construction Laborers’ Local Union 355, explained that going long distances for work is a norm in today’s construction industry.
“[Relocating to Ohio] could happen, but with the construction business in this day and age, you need to travel to keep working.”
While HERCO will open another office in Cincinnati to facilitate this multi-million dollar job, Watson stressed that the company as a whole would stay headquartered in Muskegon, saying, “We don’t want to relocate. Our home is Michigan, and we want to stay based here.”
HERCO apprentices and trainees cheered at the signing on Friday, and appeared optimistic about the opportunity. “To work at home is ideal,” according to apprentice-in-training Troy Watson. “But, if this is what the opportunity is, it has to work.”
Workers like Oren Riley also believe they will stay located in Muskegon even if they have to travel out of state for work.
“My home base is Muskegon, but if I need to go for six months elsewhere I’ll do it.”
Watson stated that some of the transportation and distance issues would be remedied by HERTravel, a new company in the HERCO group. She noted HERTravel is developing a bus line to help reduce transportation costs by keeping them in-house.