DDA hires displaced workers to spruce up city’s downtown district

Photo by Brian Batko

Photo by Brian Batko

Brian Crowley (left) and Michael Clinton perform landscaping recenlty for Southgate’s Downtown Development Authority. Though hired by the city, they are being paid through a federal grant for families in need.

By Tom Tigani
Sunday Times

SOUTHGATE — The hiring of two displaced workers by the Downtown Development Authority has been beneficial to all parties involved, city officials say.

Brian Crowley and Michael Clinton recently were chosen by authority officials to spruce up the areas around local businesses, giving the two men some income and a place to work while making the downtown look better and resulting in a placement for the Jobs, Education & Training program of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth and the Southeast Michigan Community Alliance.

The men have been hard at work pulling weeds, sweeping, cleaning, washing windows and watering plants since last month and will continue for the next two. And their hiring comes at no cost to the city, which will be reimbursed for the pair’s pay of $10 per hour, 30 hours a week.

The grant is for up to $2,400 a week for 12 weeks, City Administrator Brandon Fournier said. It comes from federal money allotted to the JET program and is administered by SEMCA.

“These grants are an excellent opportunity for our customers to get real-life work experience and a great way for them to learn how to land a steady, serious job,” said JET Director Dan Martinez.

Mayor Joseph Kuspa directed Fournier and Business Development Director Brian Batko to come up with an innovative way to make improvements in the city’s downtown area, bounded by Eureka Road from Fort Street to Allen Road and Dix-Toledo Road from Superior to the end of the Galleria Plaza just north of Leroy, as well as from Trenton Road south of Eureka to Kiwanis Park.

Batko said the authority has been looking at “many different angles and avenues to get work done creatively and efficiently” in light of its tight budget. Fournier said the effort is modeled after the Clean Detroit program, which performs a similar function for businesses in that city.

“This is something we want to do for our business owners,” Batko said. “Typically they don’t have much interaction with the city unless there’s a problem, and this is a way to start changing that.”

Crowley, who has experience doing rough carpentry, and Clinton, a former manager at a Discount Tire store, were chosen especially because they are outgoing, goal-driven and have good customer service skills.

“They’re our front line,” Batko said. “Obviously they’re much more skilled than what they’re being tasked with.”

Fournier said Clinton and Crowley will be working closely with authority business owners, and city officials wanted to make sure that they represent the city well.

“These guys rose to the top of our list,” he said.

Clinton said he’s been looking for a job daily for about a year, showing up at the Michigan Works! office on North Line Road, following up on interviews and being ready to work.

Crowley said he likes working outside, and while he agrees with Batko that he’s definitely capable of more skilled work, “there’s nothing wrong with an honest day’s living in this bad economy” — even if the job lasts just three months.

Clinton and Crowley both say they hope their gig leads to bigger and better things, and Batko says officials will be more than happy to provide good references to any potential future employers — which is OK with JET program officials.

“It’s always a good success story when employers are pleased with the folks we send there and help them get back on their feet,” Martinez said. “if you’re going to hire someone for a position, we’d ask you to take a chance on one of our customers.

“We understand that in some cases it can’t always be permanent, but that’s always the goal.”

In addition to hiring Clinton and Crowley for three months, the DDA also provides them with refreshments throughout the work day to help them keep going. The pair’s recent efforts focused on getting the municipal complex grounds ready for the city’s Heritage Days celebration last month.

About $16,000 of the DDA’s annual budget of some $300,000 will be used to purchase a tractor that comes with snowblade attachment and can be used year-round for parades and other special events that officials hope to coordinate within the district.

“It’s a very handy, versatile vehicle,” Batko said.

Officials also are looking at other ways to attract businesses to the city, including grants and low-interest loans, among other things.

“It was time our DDA, which is relatively young, came into its own,” Fournier said.