Low Plaza

Development Expert Is Overseeing Minority, Women and Local Hiring Program

By Lauren Marshall

Warren Whitlock

Warren Whitlock, experienced in the economic development issues of New York City, is now working to help Columbia increase the hiring of local, minority and women workers and contractors on current and future building projects, through his new position as director of construction coordination.

The appointment is another step in the University's on-going efforts to strengthen economic ties between the University and the neighborhoods surrounding it; an effort that has achieved the targeted employment of 25 percent minority, women and local contractors on projects to date. This effort is expected to reach 40 percent over the next three years. ("Local" refers to people who reside in the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone and Manhattan Valley).

Whitlock arrives as Columbia is embarking on three new multi-million-dollar construction projects and planning the annual summer construction program, which, over the next few years, promise hundreds of new construction jobs and thousands of dollars to be spent on construction-related goods and services. Whitlock will help Columbia leverage this hiring and spending to benefit non-traditional and under-represented workers in construction and businesses from the surrounding communities.

"We are extremely pleased to add Warren to our team as we build upon a successful track record in hiring minority, women and locally-owned businesses and workers," said Mark Burstein, vice president for facilities management. "Warren's experience in residential and commercial revitalization in under-served communities throughout New York City will enhance our efforts to build on this initiative. This, coupled with his ties to this area, makes him the perfect person to help Columbia build more solid relationships with our neighboring communities."

Whitlock will further develop the University's existing minority/women/local contracting and employment program, established by Facilities Management five years ago and successfully managed by Lisa Lewis, now associate director, over the years.

In addition to ensuring that Columbia meets its self-imposed goals in hiring minority, women and local workers and contractors on major construction projects, he will enhance the program by improving the internal process for hiring and establishing links to community organizations. He will also build on the current initiative to "grow our own" or cultivate promising small minority, women and locally-owned contractors to take on larger projects in the future.

"Columbia is taking a strong position to better integrate itself in the future of Upper Manhattan," said Whitlock. "That investment will be made by working with more architects, engineers, trades people, and designers from the surrounding neighborhoods, buying more from local vendors, and expanding the bidding process to ensure that opportunities are there for minority, women and locally-owned sub-contractors."

Whitlock's connection to Harlem and Columbia dates back to 1995, when he was appointed deputy executive director of Harlem Community Development Corporation (Harlem CDC). There he helped launch a number of significant economic development projects, including bringing the first Blockbuster Video to Harlem and redeveloping much-needed residential housing in central Harlem. It is also during this time that he first met Columbia's Larry Dais, assistant vice president for public affairs and director of community affairs. As vice chairman with the Harlem CDC board of directors, Dais worked with Whitlock to help the agency access Columbia's expert faculty for economic and community development assistance.

Today Whitlock and Dais are once again working toward a mutual goal, this time at Columbia. As the contact for the community on construction issues, Whitlock's work will complement the on-going efforts of Dais, who has played a major role in improving Columbia's relations with its uptown neighbors and continues to act as a catalyst for better communication.

"Warren will enhance facilities management's efforts to redirect construction dollars to local workers and businesses and enhance our efforts to improve employment opportunities for our neighbors, which directly relates to the University's overall mission to improve relations within the community," said Dais. "There is a huge reservoir of human capital in the surrounding neighborhoods yet to be tapped and with Warren as a member, the team will be able to do more."

Efforts to enhance the economic links between Columbia and Harlem date back to 1995, when Columbia helped secure the application to form the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation and established several technical assistance programs that still provide expertise to Upper Manhattan communities today.

In recent years, Columbia has enhanced these efforts with dollars, and by hiring more, purchasing more and spending more in the surrounding communities. In 1996, Columbia became one of the first non-profit institutions in Manhattan to voluntarily adopt hiring goals for minorities and women on major construction projects and added a "local" category a year later to encourage the hiring of sub-contractors and residents from Harlem, Washington Heights and South Bronx. Another new initiative, currently underway in administrative departments, encourages local purchasing on the departmental level giving businesses a chance to grow with Columbia's goods and services needs.

"Columbia is a very progressive university. I want people in the surrounding communities to know that Columbia hires locally, and that there are significant opportunities here for them," said Whitlock.

Whitlock, a native of Brooklyn, most recently worked as a real estate development consultant on a host of projects for institutional and non profit organizations in New York City and nationwide. Prior to his time at the Harlem CDC, Whitlock was appointed first deputy commissioner to the New York City Community Development Agency (now known as NYC Department of Youth and Community Development).

A graduate of Princeton with a degree in English, Whitlock came across his interests in community development immediately after college while working in Somalia, East Africa, directing refugee education and local entrepreneurial development projects for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. A Charles H. Revson Fellow at Columbia, he is currently completing his master's thesis in the Real Estate Development program.

Published: Apr 17, 2002
Last modified:Sep 18, 2002

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