Rochester hones its pitch to boost workforce equity

City team participates in online idea camp associated with Bloomberg Philanthropies 2021 Global Mayors Challenge.

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Darcy Tello, owner of Med City Installation, on Friday, January 15, 2021, outside the Hyatt House construction site in downtown Rochester. (Traci Westcott /
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The city of Rochester continues to hone its pitch for a $1 million grant to address workforce disparities linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city reports the pandemic has disproportionately driven women of color out of the workplace, increasing multi-generational disparities in income, education attainment and health outcomes.

Prior to COVID-19, 40 percent of the black population in Rochester lived in poverty. The city is working to drive equitable economic recovery by removing barriers that prevent women of color from entering and advancing in well-paying careers.

“As a minority woman and small business owner in the construction industry, I feel this project is exactly what the city of Rochester needs,” said Darcy Tello, owner of Med City Installation, in a statement outlining the latest steps in the Bloomberg Philanthropies 2021 Global Mayors Challenge grant process.

Last week, members of the Rochester Mayor’s Challenge team joined other finalist cities for the Bloomberg Ideas Camp, which was an online opportunity to hear from past winning cities and “pitch” projects to Bloomberg Philanthropies in advance of an October application deadline.



Since June, Rochester has been refining its idea with technical assistance from a Bloomberg Philanthropies consultant and its network of leading innovation experts. Fifteen cities will ultimately win the grand prize, with each receiving $1 million and robust multi-year technical assistance to implement and scale their ideas. Grand prize winners will be announced in early 2022.
“It is crucial that we take this opportunity to put our focus on welcoming and supporting more women of color in all aspects of the construction industry,” Tello said. “I believe this project can and will open many doors for women of color. I am grateful to be a part of this project and I can’t wait to see the many changes that are yet to come.”

Destination Medical Center activity is generating 2,000 to 3,000 construction-related jobs annually in Rochester.

Without intervention, the city predicts the related job growth will not benefit people equitably. Last year, less than 1 percent of the aproximately 1,700 construction jobs in Rochester were filled by women of color, who make up 13 percent of the city’s population.

Aaron Benike, president of Benike Construction, said the longtime Rochester company sees building projects and people’s careers as important components of the community.

“This project supports and elevates those ideals,” he said of the challenge program. “Having a reliable and robust workforce, not just for Benike, but for the whole construction industry, is incredibly important. We have an opportunity to work with members of our community to identify and eliminate barriers, and we are excited about making lasting improvements to the construction industry that will benefit the entire community.”

If the grant funding is awarded, Rochester expects to use it to engage women of color, educators and industry partners in an innovative, co-design process. Co-designers will share their expertise to shape new programs, policies and services to create sustainable career pathways for women of color.

“I am very proud of how the project team has worked together over the past month,” Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said. “The next step of working with our community co-designers will be especially meaningful, that the co-design process places their ideas, lived experience and perspective at the forefront. Together, we will continue to advance toward the next milestone this fall.”

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