Wegmans opening spurs record-breaking job growth at Navy Yard
The Navy Yard helped fill 589 new jobs in 2019, nearly half of which were at the new 74,000-square-foot supermarket. Most were low-skilled, entry-level positions.
The high-profile opening of the 74,000-square-foot Wegmans supermarket at the Brooklyn Navy Yard assisted in a record-breaking year for job placements at the employment center run by the Navy Yard’s Development Corporation.
The Albert C. Wiltshire Employment Center helped facilitate the filling of 589 new positions over the fiscal year, an all-time high for the 20-year-old corporation, according to a report released Tuesday. The newly opened Wegmans accounted for 214 of the positions filled by the center — nearly half of all the supermarket’s available jobs.
As community stakeholders, legislators, advocacy groups and others work to contain the economic displacement of Brooklyn residents, such programming aims to stem the tide and fuel continued economic growth, according to the corporation, which is partly funded by the city.
“The importance of the middle class and making sure that all New Yorkers have a pathway to a good living wage and upward mobility has always been important, but it’s more important now than ever,” David Ehrenberg, president and CEO of the Navy Yard’s Development Corporation, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “With all of the development and success of New York, there are more and more questions about whether that’s for everybody. I think we do everything we can to make sure that our local residents are included in the development and success of the Yard.”
In a partnership with Wegmans, the Employment Center hosted 108 recruitment events targeting local residents. Wegmans received 1,560 job applications through the center, the vast majority of them from Brooklyn residents. Those results helped balloon the center’s new-hire rate by 28 percent since last year, and by more than 50 percent compared to 2017.
Brooklyn was the biggest beneficiary of the Navy Yard Employment Center’s overall efforts to fill jobs this year. Borough residents account for 90 percent of the hires connected to jobs through the center.
The positions run the gamut from food server to senior mechanical design engineer, though most are entry-level gigs. Nearly four-fifths of the new employees had earned a high school diploma, GED or below, and 36 percent live in public housing. The average starting pay is $16.14 per hour, slightly higher than the city’s new universal $15-an-hour minimum wage, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
The cost of housing in Brooklyn is topping national polls and showing few, if any, signs of significant decline. In August, rent rates rose higher across the borough than in any other month since March 2016. Such compensation, therefore, does little to ease the city’s housing affordability crisis. However, according to Ehrenberg, entry-level jobs, even those providing a barely livable wage, are critical to maintaining community demographic stability, while contributing to growth.
“There are people for whom [this new job] is their first entree into the labor market, and that’s really important,” he said.
The center’s report found that nearly one-fifth of the individuals it connected to new jobs this year were experiencing long-term unemployment, were previously incarcerated or were convicted of crimes.
“We want to make sure that the jobs at the Yard are not only paid well at the entry level, but also have upward growth potential in the wages, and that’s certainly the jobs that we’re placing people in,” Ehrenberg said. Should the workers retain their positions, within a year they could conceivably earn as much as 25 percent more money, he added.
The Navy Yard’s Development Corporation, in a partnership with the city’s Department of Education, opened the Brooklyn STEAM Center on the Navy Yard grounds this year, which provides career technical training to students from eight public high schools.
The Navy Yard welcomed 155 summer interns, across 63 employers at the complex, as well, part of running program exposing young people to job training. Seventy percent of interns were Brooklyn residents and 50 percent were CUNY students.
Michael Stahl is a freelance writer and editor. A former high school English teacher, he has written for Rolling Stone, Vice, the Village Voice, Narratively, Splitsider, Outside Magazine and other publications.
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