By Mrinal Gokhale
Inside Milwaukee’s Century City Business Park warehouse stands a group of male and female construction workers, glazing and assembling 11 by 14 foot curtain wall panels later loading them onto trucks.
Besides the four management staff members, most of the workers have had no previous construction experience, but have been at this facility for almost a year. This is where most of the Northwestern Mutual’s new skyscraper construction has taken place.
It was announced in 2014 that the downtown Milwaukee Northwestern Mutual East Building needs a new glass and aluminum curtain wall. Northwestern Mutual partnered with Benson Industries and Duwe Metal Products in May 2015 to begin constructing a curtain wall for the 83,000 square foot building.
Located at 3533 N. 27th Street, the warehouse is occupied by Duwe contractors and leased by the Portland based Benson Industries.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Northwestern Mutual attended a press conference at Century City at 10:30 a.m. on March 28. He toured the factory and met some of the workers. While touring the factory, Mayor Barrett said this project was previously going to be outsourced, but he then instead ensured that Milwaukee residents will work on it.
“There are more man hours going into training and assembling the curtain wall panels in this factory than out on-site by the tower,” Barrett said.
As a result, 40 previously unemployed Milwaukee men and women now have family sustaining jobs, according to Jeannie Lauret, CEO of Duwe Metal Products in Menomonee Falls.
These contractors work more than 50 hours per day, and their duties include glazing and assembling curtain wall panels in this factory.
“Duwe manufactures the glass and aluminum panels which will wrap around the building’s exterior. We train workers in this factory, who now have experience for future construction jobs when this project ends,” Lauret said.
So far, the team has assembled 724 units. The project requires about 125,000 shop hours. Most of the workers are RPP certified (Residents Preference Program) and trained by Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, which works with the unemployed and underemployed. Completed curtain wall panels are trucked to the Northwestern Mutual tower and installed on the exterior of floors five through 32.
The full installation will be finished this summer and according to Betsy Hoylman, public relations director at Northwestern Mutual, the full project will be finished in late 2017.
The 550-foot tower is the second tallest building in Wisconsin, and about 1,000 construction jobs are expected to result in downtown Milwaukee from the curtain wall.
Mayor Barrett hopes this construction project will serve as a model for employing locals to reconstruct the Milwaukee Bucks arena.
“Whether it’s this, the arena, the Milwaukee Streetcar or any other construction, I want people in our community to have jobs, because many of Milwaukee’s problems will be rectified when more people are employed,” Barrett said.