Final wildfire cleanup numbers reflect Task Force’s commitment to a local and diverse workforce
The unprecedented mission to help Oregon recover and rebuild after the devastating September 2020 wildfires provided hundreds of local jobs and surpassed national workforce diversity averages, according to a recent report from the Debris Management Task Force who oversaw the work.
The report summarizes final workforce data and the composition of the Task Force and its crews, showing that nearly all (91%) subcontractors were Oregon-based businesses, roughly three-quarters of crew members (69%) were Oregon residents, and one-in-four identified as non-white.
At the height of the wildfire cleanup operation, more than 1,200 contractors and state staff worked around the clock simultaneously in nine Oregon counties to remove hazardous materials, wildfire debris and dangerous fire-damaged trees—providing a pathway for rebuilding and helping wildfire survivors navigate their next chapter.
Now recorded as Oregon’s worst natural disaster in modern state history, work began immediately after the fires to first clear hazardous materials. Then came the second step of removing debris from more than 3,000 home sites while assessing, cutting and removing nearly 100,000 fire-damaged trees posing safety risks to highway users and communities working to rebuild.
“Oregon had never experienced or recovered from a crisis of this magnitude before,” said Frank Reading, the Area Commander overseeing the wildfire cleanup operation. “Given this reality, and without a state-specific playbook to guide this work, we worked diligently to form a qualified crew in a matter of weeks to provide both critical recovery services while building a local bench of contractors to call upon in the future.”
Due to the emergency response nature of the huge task at hand, no specific goals or targets for workforce demographics were required to start this work. However, the team of state and community leaders, consultants, and contractors that made up the ODOT-led Debris Management Task Force voluntarily developed criteria that prioritized local economic development and workforce diversity to guide the contracting process—and to help yield the dynamic team that resulted.
Each month, to ensure progress and compliance, contractors were required to submit monthly status reports summarizing how they were contributing to these priorities through their hiring practices.
“This latest data underlines our commitment to an Oregon Helping Oregon approach and the many communities that we serve daily,” noted Reading.
“We were proud to learn that the tools, oversight, and accountability measures that we put in place produced the team and contracting opportunities that best serve Oregon, and that state leaders intended. Throughout, we aimed to build a dynamic and diverse workforce to deliver a critical first step in the difficult, multi-year wildfire recovery process. Being able to provide local job opportunities while supporting those so tragically impacted by both a global pandemic and a once-in-a lifetime wildfire event was truly an honor.”
Subcontractors also provided valuable apprenticeship opportunities to train local and underserved communities that historically may not have had access to comparable job prospects or training programs.
Specifically, notable findings from the workforce report include:
91% were Oregon-based businesses: Of the subcontractors working for the four prime contractors, nearly 9 in 10 (91%) were Oregon-based local firms.
69% of the workforce were Oregonians: Oregon residents made up nearly three-quarters of the total workforce.
More than half of all subcontractors were certified small businesses: Of all executed subcontractor agreements, more than half (55%) were COBID-certified or self-certified small businesses.
One-quarter (25%) of the workforce were non-white: This surpasses many national averages usually set at 14%.
One-fifth (21%) of the workforce were women: This also surpasses national averages for many construction operations of this size.
“As crews start to demobilize, we hope that this important work can serve as a model for the future and a baseline to build upon while state leaders plan for what comes next,” commented Reading. “Most importantly, we—with our many contractor and local community partners—hope that we’ve done our part to help get wildfire survivors back into homes with some semblance of normalcy again. It’s been an honor to lead this incredible crew and we thank Oregonians for their grit, resilience and enduring spirit.”
As of March 2022, the majority of all Task Force-led work is complete as final close-out steps wrap up this summer.