Even after the plans were approved and the center was created in stops and starts, the Urban League still kept listening to the neighborhood voices. The League did
surveying and always had an information booth at area events.
“It was a long journey and a journey where we made sure that we visited with the community and heard the voices of the community,” said Dr. Ruben Anthony Jr.,
the Urban League’s CEO. “And so what you see in that employment and training center is what the community said they needed over here. So community members,
we will be looking for you to use that center as much as you can and come there because that is where a lot of opportunity is. It was great to work with you together.
Many of you came out and told us what you wanted in this employment and training center. Dorschner, the architects who designed this building, took all of the hard
questions. They brought back designs to the community and I really think that this a community-inspired project.”
Anthony talked about the partnerships that were required to not only make the center a reality, but also those that will be needed to provide employment and training
services to community members such as human services and child care. One of the biggest partnerships mention was the customized training that Exact Sciences
and the Urban League do.
“Exact Sciences in partnership with the Urban League launched a job training academy,” said Exact Science’s Justin Krause. “The Exact Sciences-Urban League
Academy connects participants to opportunities on our growing laboratory and customer care teams, essentially creating a community to career pipeline. In our
training program, Urban League and Exact Science staff work side-by-side to teach job-seekers needed skills, help them refine their resumes and get prepared for
success, whether that is at Exact Sciences or elsewhere. I am thrilled to say that the program is working and it is growing. Overall, 84 percent of participants have
found jobs with Exact Sciences. Our current class alone has more than 20 people enrolled. This ensures that we will continue to welcome Urban League graduates
into the Exact Sciences family. This employment center, which is located less than two miles from our new, state-of-the-art laboratory and customer care center
plays a crucial role in continuing that work.”
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway emphasized that the Urban League-Exact Science collaboration is a model for the rest of the city of Madison.
“We have such opportunity here,” Rhodes-Conway emphasized. “I’m really grateful to Exact Sciences. I am very grateful to them. I don’t know if you all know exactly
how many job openings they have. It’s in the hundreds. Last I heard it was like 700. We need people to be prepared to be a part of this economic engine. And they
aren’t the only large employer that is looking for people. So it is so important that we have the workforce development and training options to prepare people to take
advantage of those opportunities.”
There was also much discussion about employment being the foundation for wealth development.
“You can’t own a plumbing company unless you are qualified as a plumber,” Soglin said. “You can’t own a real estate company unless you are qualified as a realtor.
You can’t own a business unless you have the skill and talent and the training. And so while we are doing great work with Exact Sciences in terms of job training,
but unless we get job training in occupations that lead to business ownership, we are not going to get to the goal of a truly diverse, successful community.”
One of the beautiful byproducts of the project was the collaborative support of the city, Urban League and others to make minority business development a part of
this project as well. This was Amigo Construction’s first project as a prime contractor.
“Our family-owned business is very pleased to be able to showcase our latest construction project with the city of Madison, its first community-based employment
and training center,” said Wensy Melendez, Amigo’s vice-president. “I want to thank the community leaders across academia, government, industry, labor and non-
profit sector assembled here to explore the positive impact that this will have on the area’s community, especially the people who will be served by the Urban
League for many years to come. I would like to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude and thanks to all of you who generously helped us make this building
the key to future success. The city of Madison’s project managers, I thank you for your leadership and your willingness to help us through this construction period.
And to my friends and mentors, Juan José López and Dr. Ruben Anthony Jr., they always pushed me in the right direction. I thank you. Today, we at Amigo
Construction no longer refer to this employment center as a job site. We now prefer to call it a growth site.”
Anthony, who had been involved in business development at the WI Dept. of Transportation echoed the importance of giving firms like Amigo’s a chance.
“A few years ago, we had a disparities study in this community and it told us what we couldn’t do,” Anthony said. “And it told us what minority firms couldn’t do. It
said that there are no construction companies here. There are no African American here. There are no Latinos here to get it done. I think the city has the power and
they demonstrated it here that if we make a concerted effort, there are no boundaries or barriers to stop us from being inclusive and doing the things that we can do.
When you walk through that facility today, be proud. And Wensy, be proud my friend. Be proud of the work that you have done. There were ups and downs. It wasn’t
easy. There were struggles. But the lessons that will be learned from this project will be a blueprint for what we need to do to open up the doors of opportunity and
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway also talked about the need for wealth development in Madison’s communities of color.
“You heard the Amigos story,” Rhodes-Conway said. “We need more of that. We need more contractors of color in this community. We need more developers of color
in this community if we are going to really talk about wealth building, we have to talk about ownership. And we talk about how is the community part of the
development of our community literally, physically. We’re still working on that.”
As the blue-skied, beautiful day turned towards the afternoon, McKinney probably summed it up best in terms of the impact that this collaboration will have on the
“Look at the building now,” McKinney exclaimed. “Look at the opportunities that will be existing in that building. Look at the lives that will be changed, careers that
will be built, and families that will be strong. That’s the vision of why this is so important. Today is absolutely a great day.”
It is an effort that will continue to give to Southwest Madison residents and the broader community beyond for years to come. Wonders can happen when people
come together with the belief that a project can happen. The Southwest Madison Employment Center serves as living proof.