Economic Development

TJX Prefers Local Workers and Contractors – Mayor

LORDSTOWN, Ohio — Officials at TJX Companies Inc. told Mayor Arno Hill Friday that the company would prefer to use local workers and contractors as part of its $160 million distribution center now under development in the village.

“I had a brief conversation with them today,” Hill said Friday. “They’re aware of what’s going on – a lot of it is way too early in the game and these contracts are not out yet.”

Building trades unions and local contractors have expressed concern that local workers, businesses and material suppliers could be left in the dust should TJX select a general contractor that prefers to use outside labor to construct the company’s 1.2 million square-foot HomeGoods distribution center.

“The excavation contract is the only one let,” Hill said. “Even if they hire an out-of-town construction manager, that doesn’t mean they’re not going to use local labor.”

The excavation work, Hill said, was awarded to Independence Excavation of Independence, Ohio. On Friday, the company’s operators were busy grading and preparing the site at Bailey and Hallock Young roads so TJX could begin construction on the project.

In March, the Board of Trumbull County Commissioners approved an enterprise zone agreement with the company that includes a 10-year 75% tax abatement on new construction.

However, the local building trades and their signatory contractors say Trumbull County didn’t include language in the agreement that stipulates the company use local workers on the project, leaving many to believe they won’t.

“There could have been language, for example, that said 50% of the workforce must be a resident of within 100 miles,” said Sam Boak, president of the Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. “That’s all it would have taken.”

He said his company, Boak & Sons in Austintown, often does work in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and these contracts stipulate that a percentage of the project’s workforce is local.

“They want to see 50% of the workers that live within 20 miles of the city,” Boak said. “So, we hire guys from that area.”

The same should have been done with the TJX project, Boak said. “This would stop the general contractor from bringing plumbers from Texas who make $15 an hour, no benefits and sleep in trailers. They don’t even help the economy here by staying in a hotel.”

Hiring local subcontractors and vendors for these large projects ensure that a sizeable portion of the money stays in the community, he continued. Local governments, businesses and services all benefit as a result.

“There are plenty of contractors between Cleveland and Pittsburgh and a lot of subcontractors here,” Boak said. However, it’s likely that a low-bid national general contractor would do its best to hire the cheapest labor it could find, which would freeze out the local workforce.

Still, Boak said he’s hopeful that local contractors could at least snare part of the project.

“I’m hoping that a couple of us will get work,” he said. “You might have 1,000 people working out there, and are we going to get 100 when we could have 500 jobs? This is one of the biggest projects we’ve had in a long time.”

TJX has released a statement noting that it is too early in the development stage to comment on the contractors and subcontractors.

“We remain very excited about this project and continue to believe it will be mutually beneficial to the people of Lordstown, the broader Mahoning Valley and HomeGoods,” the statement said. “Our work thus far has been focused on clearing the property, work which we have been conducting with a site contractor located in Ohio. As it is early in the construction process, we are not in a position to confirm additional information at this time.”

Tony DiTommaso, business agent for Carpenters Local 171 and secretary/treasurer for the Western Reserve Building and Construction Trades Council, said the trades have been talking with Trumbull County commissioners for some time about the issue.

“We were concerned about the use of the general contractor on the project,” he said.

In March, DiTommaso appeared before Trumbull County commissioners and raised the question about inserting language in the agreement that would require a percentage of the construction workforce to be drawn from the Mahoning Valley.

“If a company starts bringing in people from all over the country to build this, the majority of the money goes to their home base and markets,” he said. “It’s important that before we start giving handouts, we look at our community first.”

DiTommaso said that state and local governments stand to lose tax dollars, while the money doesn’t circulate in the Mahoning Valley.

Trumbull County Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa noted that the enterprise zone agreement contains language that “strongly urges the use of local contractors,” but their use is not mandatory.

Cantalamessa said he isn’t sure whether the county can legally force a private company to hire resident workers, but he’s hoping that the general contractor considers using local subcontractors for the project.

He said commissioners would consider a resolution next week that shows their support of local labor and urges TJX to employ local contractors on the job.

DiTommaso said the trades are continuing to work with TJX, and it’s unclear as to whether a construction manager contract has been awarded yet. There is some indication that the favorite company for the job is Catamount Constructors Inc., which has offices in Atlanta, San Antonio and Denver, he said.

In 2017, Catamount began construction of a 1.2 million square-foot TJX distribution center in San Antonio.

DiTommaso said that elected officials such as state Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta, plan to reach out to the company next week and engage in further discussions about the project.

“He’s been very helpful,” DiTommaso said. “We’re hoping to find out more by early next week.”

Pictured above: Site preparation is underway where TJX Companies plans to build its HomeGoods distribution center.

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.