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Casino offers jobs jackpot for American Indians

The Mystic Lake casino in Prior Lake, Minn., is getting what one construction official calls a “multiphased, Las Vegas-style renovation of the entire casino.” Remodeling work at Mystic Lake is providing construction job opportunities for many American Indian workers. Photo by Bill Klotz

The Mystic Lake casino in Prior Lake, Minn., is getting what one construction official calls a “multiphased, Las Vegas-style renovation of the entire casino.” Remodeling work at Mystic Lake is providing construction job opportunities for many American Indian workers. Photo by Bill Klotz

Brian Johnson
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — An ongoing remodeling project at Mystic Lake casino in Prior Lake is bringing riches that slot machines and roulette tables can’t offer: construction job opportunities for people in Indian country, where unemployment far exceeds the national average.

PCL Construction Services, which is working with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community on the project, has formed work crews that have a strong contingent of Native American workers. PCL crews have devoted roughly 53,600 hours to the project, and 21,500 of those are from American Indian workers.

Overall, including subcontractors, American Indian workers have put in 25 percent of the work hours for the Mystic Lake project, which is described by one PCL Construction Services official as a “multiphased, Las Vegas-style renovation of the entire casino.”

An American Indian-owned company, Bald Eagle Erectors, is installing reinforcing steel for the project.

American Indian participation has been significant on other recent SMSC projects, ranging from 19 percent of the work hours on the newly completed Koda Energy biomass project to nearly 37 percent for the tribe’s Reverse Osmosis project.

Deerwood, Minn.-based Rice Lake Construction completed both projects earlier this year.

SMSC has high participation rates because it defines minority contracting in terms of requirements rather than goals. The SMSC typically requires contractors to set aside 15 percent to 25 percent of the jobs to American Indians.

Contractors can be penalized for failing to comply with hiring requirements and the ratio of disadvantaged workers has to be maintained throughout the project.

In addition to hiring mandates, SMSC requires general contractors to seek out American Indian businesses for subcontracting work, and it has bidding preferences for vendors who will supply products and services for the new facilities.

“The SMSC is cognizant of the severe economic conditions and widespread unemployment that exists among our sovereign people, and therefore, place a moral obligation on contractors for public service projects or contracts to assist in relieving such economically depressed conditions,” according to a statement attributed to Stanley Crooks, chairman of the SMSC.

On large construction projects, SMSC puts its hiring policies in the project specifications and contractors understand that they have to meet or exceed those percentages, according to Bill Rudnicki, SMSC’s tribal administrator.

Long-term relationships with contractors such as PCL and Rice Lake Construction, and a good pool of available American Indian workers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, are among the factors that have made the hiring program a success, he noted.

PCL Construction officials believe they’re in a good position to meet the requirements, given their experience with tribal construction. Since 1995, PCL has worked with the SMSC on three hotel towers, two parking garages, a skyway bridge and other projects.

Mike Durene, a PCL superintendent, said PCL crews include Native American carpenters, laborers, heavy equipment operators and cement finishers.

“We work together with the SMSC to keep good working relationships, resolve disputes and ensure the safety of all our workers,” according to an e-mail attributed to Durene. According to the e-mail, PCL also has good working relationships with the Red Lake and Fond du Lac tribes.

Experience gained on those projects often leads to other opportunities. In fact, the “vast majority” of Native American workers employed on Mystic Lake projects have gone on to join a union for their construction trade, said John Jensvold, director of project development for PCL.

“There was a time when PCL actively sought Native American workers through a variety of publications dedicated to news and events in Indian country,” according to an e-mail attributed to Jensvold. “Today, word of mouth is so effective that there is a steady stream of interested workers.

“The idea is to move beyond hiring targets to authentically increase the skills and capacity of Native American construction professionals through the course of some very exciting projects.”

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