Indiana Plan helps to build jobs, home in Lafayette

The Times of Northwest Indiana | Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2011 1:41 p.m.

Contributed by Dave Wellman | Diversified Marketing Strategies

GARY, Ind. - Despite a stubborn economy, the Indiana Plan continues to create jobs and opportunities for minorities in Indiana's union construction industry.

"There might not be as much construction activity as there was a few years ago, but there is still a lot going on," says Joree Richards, Area Coordinator for the Indiana Plan in Northwest Indiana. "It's still a great way to earn a good living for those who enjoy the challenges and rewards of building something."

Brothers Aaron (left) and Richard Bagsby working at the Chatham Square project in Lafayette, Ind. Providing that introduction is what the Indiana Plan is all about. Supported by more than 200 Indiana-based contractors around the state, the Indiana Plan conducts outreach activities to minorities in high schools and at career fairs, preaching the virtues of a construction career.

Those interested can sign up for the Plan's "pre-apprenticeship" training program, which includes everything from building basic work habits to OSHA training, electrical skills and a firm grounding in mathematics. The end result is a pool of trained minority candidates ready to move into apprenticeship programs from which building contractors can draw.

The Indiana Plan's value was illustrated recently during the construction of the new Chatham Square housing development in Lafayette. In 2009, the City of Lafayette purchased the property, then the site of the run-down Bridgewater Apartments, out of foreclosure and embarked on a nearly $20 million effort that would demolish the existing buildings and recreate it as a new community with single-family homes, rental units and a community center.

Approximately $7.8 million of the funding for Chatham Square came from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds made available through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA). HUD funds carry with them certain conditions, one of which is known as "Section 3," which requires that projects using HUD monies make a good-faith effort to train and employ low-income individuals in the area. To accomplish that, the projects' general contractor, Lafayette-based Kettelhut Construction Inc., reached out to the Indiana Plan.

"This is probably the most involvement we've had with the Indiana Plan on a single project," says Greg Helms, Senior Project Manager at Kettelhut Construction. "We have about ten people from the Indiana Plan on the site and it has worked out very well."

Brothers Richard and Aaron Bagsby are two of the Indiana Plan workers on the Chatham Square project. Richard had previously been working toward union membership but that goal was interrupted by a stay in jail. Looking for work after he was released, a friend at Ivy Tech pointed him to the Indiana Plan's Web site.

"The next day, they had me in for an interview and the week later in for OSHA 10 training and the following week I was working," he recalls. "It kind of surprised me. But they gave me a shot when no one else would and I'm really grateful for that."

Aaron was doing welding work while serving as a member of the Indiana National Guard when his brother passed the Indiana Plan's Web site along. "It gave me the outlet I was looking for and the ability to get my foot in the door," he says. "I had done construction work before but now I'm learning a lot more."

The Bagsbys were involved primarily in framing and carpentry work on-site, and after completing their Indiana Plan period on the project have moved into the apprenticeship program with the local chapter of the Indiana/Kentucky Regional Council of Carpenters (IKRCC). And for the IKRCC, having a strong stable of apprentices in Lafayette is crucial to its ability to compete in the marketplace.

"We don't get a lot of residential framing jobs," notes IKRCC Business Manager David Brettnacher. "It's a tough market and those jobs usually go to nonunion contractors. So it's a very important part of our strategy to try and maintain 30 to 50 apprentices in our program to help keep costs down." The combination of apprentices and Indiana Plan participants "didn't hurt" when it came to landing the Chatham Square project. "We have a union contractor over there doing the basic package and it's a 90 percent union job," Brettnacher says. "For residential for us here, that's awesome."

One of the best things about the Indiana Plan is the way it allows participants to test the waters, Brettnacher says. "It's a good trial period," he says. "Some people don't have much experience and so they can see if this is what they want to do."

"They've had me doing a lot of different things," confirms Aaron Bagsby. "Framing, trusses, footers for concrete. Between this and the military I feel like I have something to come back to. I'm learning a lot." Not only does Richard echo his brother's sentiments, but adds that he's passed information on the Indiana Plan along to several others who subsequently got involved in the program.

Based on their experience with Indiana Plan participants, Helms says Kettelhut would have no problems partnering with the Indiana Plan in the future. "We have had lots of on-site applications and we just shoot them to Joree," he says. "When all is said and done the people who go into the program are people that you know want to be out there working."