how community engagement led to community investment of the Northside

When leaders at NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center envisioned a campus expansion project, community engagement was at the forefront, and prioritizing inclusion was the path to that engagement. The two pillars of this vision were: maximize small business inclusion in our contracting process and deepen community involvement in our project workforce.

NorthPoint’s Community Board highlighted these priorities through a partnership with Hennepin County, which invested $87.15 million in the project and engaged in an amended procurement process. The project was unbundled by creating smaller construction packages for Small Business Enterprises (SBEs) to bid for selection. The funding for these smaller packages were designated for SBEs employing ex-offenders.

The process yielded two small minority owned business enterprises (MBEs): KMS Construction and TRI-Construction, local contractors whose teams comprised of 74% small MBE sub-contractors and suppliers. As for workforce inclusion from the community, the general contractor, JE Dunn Construction, collaborated with the Urban League of the Twin Cities to recruit hires. The project set out to prioritize recruiting and hiring local laborers and carpenters, particularly with a goal toward increasing minority and women involvement.

A common vision

JE Dunn Construction, KMS Construction, and TRI-Construction share a common vision of a healthy northside community thriving as a result of direct investment in its people and businesses. Access to living wage jobs and quality health care are crucial to the longevity of the northside. NorthPoint’s campus expansion is an example of that type of direct investment in the community. For Ken McCraley, owner of KMS Construction, it’s also an opportunity to show that minority contractors can deliver high-quality projects and become a blueprint for how to package projects to include MBEs.

For JE Dunn Construction, a big part of their work is with health care facilities. JE Dunn’s guiding principles aligned with NorthPoint’s campus expansion project: family first, do the right thing, serve others, and health & well-being. Bill Igel, JE Dunn’s Healthcare Vice President for Minneapolis, says NorthPoint’s new building “will be among the best-in-class facilities we have worked on” and will give access to a state-of-art facility that many community members previously never had a chance to visit. Mr. Igel believes it will be a very welcoming space that brings pride to the northside community.

Ms. Delmarie Nelson, 51, on the NorthPoint construction site. Photo credit: NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center

Engaging with community

While JE Dunn Construction is not based in Minneapolis, Mr. Igel points to their Minneapolis office made up of all local people and NorthPoint’s campus expansion as an opportunity to enrich the lives of community members who live in community. One example of this is JE Dunn’s work with the Urban League of Minneapolis hosting a job fair in August 2021, informing community members about working in the trades and the well-paying jobs available.

For Ms. Delmarie Nelson, 51, getting hired was an opportunity to earn a competitive wage and more importantly, a pension. Ms. Nelson, a beautician, and business owner said she was attracted to the hourly pay and also the opportunity to earn a pension, something she does not have as a business owner. The debt free training was also very appealing. Ms. Nelson was trained before getting on site, visited, and learned from various labor unions, and eventually began working on the NorthPoint site in May 2022, after completing 3 months of training. One training she especially appreciated was on emotional intelligence, which she said is important to keep emotions calm while working with heavy machinery. Ms. Nelson is still working on the NorthPoint site today and even got re-certified as a flagger. She hopes to gain more certifications and move up in positions, because in her own words “the sky is the limit”. She also hopes to see more women and black people in higher positions, like foreman and superintendent. For Ms. Nelson, who used to visit her doctor at NorthPoint when it was Pilot City, it means a lot that she will drive by the finished building and be able to say, “I was a part of that”.

Another example of JE Dunn’s commitment to partnership beyond the construction is their engagement with NorthPoint’s programs like the Food Shelf, where employees can volunteer and host fundraisers. The goal is not just to pound nails and pour concrete, as Mr. Igel puts it, but it’s also “to know the importance of this job and why we’re doing this”.

Investing in community

For the northside, which is majority African American, the new building will be an investment in the community. TRI-Construction owner Calvin Littlejohn explains that “if we want to see the African American community grow, we must bolster or increase the business sector of the African American community”. TRI-Construction works to ensure that payroll dollars go to households in the northside. This sentiment is shared by Mr. Igel of JE Dunn, who says “we want to enrich people’s lives through the buildings we build.”

And for NorthPoint’s staff, 70% of which have community ties, the new building will be an improved space on par with other top tier health care facilities throughout the Twin Cities.

Long-term impact

The new and improved NorthPoint building also means the capacity to increase services. Community members will access facilities including a Dental Specialty Center, a Bistro Café and Teaching Kitchen, a Child Wellness Center offering free childcare services, a Spiritual Healing and Wellness Center, and increased Food Shelf distributions.

Programming focused on Health Equity will also include the NorthPlace Housing Connection to create and support a housing network across North Minneapolis, the African American Men’s Center of Excellence to focus on collective support for African American men, the NorthPoint Nutrition Center that will align all food programming and educate guests on health food options and ensuring the environmental equity with community education on renewable energy and other sustainable energy practices.

For KMS’s Ken McCraley, these increased services and programming impacts will make a healthier community. “From a pure people perspective, folks will believe in building in this community out because they will have high-quality, accessible health care right here in their neighborhood.”

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