How a Local Nonprofit Made Detroit’s New Arena Possible
As Detroit celebrated the opening of its much-anticipated Little Caesar’s Arena last month, the city saw the culmination of a project that involved and inspired many in the city, a tangible example of Detroit’s resilience and optimism. Along with the developers, investors, tenants, and ticket holders responsible for the monumental project is one more unexpected, under-the-radar player: Goodwill.
Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit supplied welders on the project from its welding training program, a 14-week course with a master welder that provides an opportunity for underemployed Detroit residents to obtain a certification, join a welders’ union, and obtain skills-based employment.
“Our skills program focuses on groups who have had contact with the criminal justice system,” says Goodwill CEO Dan Varner. “We’ve had almost 100 graduates—we’ll have our 100th early next year.” This number is a huge one in a city that has seen employment rates fall as a result of a decline in the manufacturing work that once put it on the map. Matching skilled workers with projects like the arena is a win-win for the city and its residents.
Goodwill saw six of its graduates working on the arena, a sure sign of the effectiveness of its job training, which supports participants from early reintegration to skilled labor opportunities. “The skill trades are occupational training,” Varner explains. “Before that, we do work-readiness training. If you’ve been in prison for 15 years, your general work skills are very rusty, so we kind of get them reintegrated through that. Throughout that process, our staff identifies people who would be a good fit for the welding program and funnels them into it.”
The results are striking: Varner reveals that nearly 90 percent of participants in its programs leave with secure jobs. A job on the Little Caesar’s project was an especially covetable one: The average starting wage was $20 per hour, compared to the average $14 per hour for welders. Put simply, it’s programs like this that make the arena—a project close to the hearts of everyone involved—about more than just sports. As Varner says, “We are building this arena and we are building lives.”
As Varner says, “We are building this arena and we are building lives.”