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Aecon-Golden Mile JV creates opportunities in a time of transformation

Angela Gismondi
Aecon-Golden Mile JV creates opportunities in a time of transformation
ANGELA GISMONDI - In a panel at the Affordable Housing Summit at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus (from left) Nation Cheong (United Way Greater Toronto), Victoria Armit (Centre for Inclusive Economic Opportunity, Golden Mile), Heela Omarkhail (The Daniels Corporation) and Scott Ryan (Aecon Utilities) discussed the details of a construction joint venture between Aecon Group Inc. and the Centre for Inclusive Economic Opportunity, Golden Mile.

A new joint venture is aiming to create construction opportunities to benefit the community.

The Aecon-Golden Mile (A-GM) joint venture was the topic of a panel discussion at the Affordable Housing Summit, held recently in Toronto.

The community-owned construction joint venture between Aecon and the Centre for Inclusive Economic Opportunity (CIEO), is a not-for-profit organization founded by 10 community organizations to expand economic opportunities for residents of the Greater Golden Mile.

The area, located on Eglinton Avenue East between Victoria Park and Birchmount, is expected to be redeveloped over the next few decades with over 75 mid- and highrise buildings and more than 30,000 residential, retail and office spaces.

The joint venture began about 18 months ago after the United Way Greater Toronto launched the Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity initiative.

“At this point we’ve hired 34 local employees, the vast majority of whom were previously unemployed and referred to A-GM through a pre-apprenticeship program that is delivered by one of the member agencies of the Centre for Inclusive Economic Opportunity,” said Victoria Armit of CIEO, Golden Mile.

“Those individuals are now contributing to construction projects with some of the biggest firms in the Canadian industry. As a result of that participation, over the past 18 months over $1.5 million in wages has been distributed among that employee base.”


People don’t have to be displaced because of change

The Greater Golden Mile neighbourhood is largely made up of newcomers to Canada, people living in poverty, historically under-served communities which have been impacted by the lack of local economic opportunities.

“As we embrace infrastructure development, the Ontario Line, transit line and that investment from government impacts communities, United Way’s stance is that the working class, low-income folks who are living in these communities often get displaced. That doesn’t have to happen,” Nation Cheong of United Way Greater Toronto told those in attendance.

“The collective effort with labour, construction firms, public partners, not-for-profit entities can ensure that people benefit from the transformation that is happening in their communities.”

A-GM is majority-owned by CIEO (51 per cent) and eventually will be operated and staffed by local residents. 

Aecon owns 49 per cent and brings construction infrastructure service expertise to the table, specializing in hydrovac services, traffic control and fibre optic installation.

“We bring two teams together, one being highly focused on the community benefits and then Aecon…we’re able to bring in construction knowledge. We’re able to bring in resources and training and skilled people,” explained Scott Ryan of Aecon Utilities.

“We find it to be a nice synergy between the community and the needs of the community as well as leveraging the things that work for us at Aecon, which is building needs, construction training, identifying opportunities and moving quickly to take advantage of those.”

CIEO was established to ensure residents and businesses in that neighbourhood are able to continue to grow and stay as it develops.

“The Aecon-Golden Mile joint venture is one vehicle through which we’re endeavouring to help that to happen,” said Armit. “There are three main objectives with the Aecon-Golden Mile joint venture: the first is what Aecon brings to the table, to be that go to contractor of choice for the redevelopment and for other projects where social purpose objectives are being prioritized. But also it’s about generating community wealth…51 per cent of the profits that are generated will be redistributed back to the community.”


Providing careers in construction

The joint venture is hiring and training individuals who are from the community to positions within the construction industry, positions that might have been harder for them to access otherwise, she added.

When major projects in the city are set up properly from an RFQ point of view it drives construction companies to make sure they include ways to engage the local community in their proposals, said Ryan.

“Ten years ago there was a lot of talk about best efforts but now we’re seeing fixed percentages in RFQs saying you must have five per cent of your workforce be from the local community,” he pointed out.

“When you look around North America, in the U.S. we’re seeing big shifts.

“For federal funding in the U.S. those numbers are very big, 20, 30 per cent spent on any project must be with companies that have those inclusivity requirements. I think that’s where we should be headed…These are things that we can be doing upfront to ensure that when large projects come through they have the right level of community engagement.”

Heela Omarkhail of The Daniels Corporation talked about the opportunities a large-scale redevelopment like the Golden Mile can create.

“Construction is not an easy process,” she said. “There is a pathway and there are additional wraparound supports needed to be successful. So if we can take the time now to build those training and career pathways before there is even a shovel in the ground, that’s an important investment we all need to be making. Let’s do that recruitment work in the community now and then let’s retain those individuals. Let’s grow those individuals in these careers.”

Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.

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