Published on August 24, 2021

Underrepresented workers vital to Essentia Health’s Vision Northland project

As the $900 million Vision Northland (VNL) project progresses rapidly on Essentia Health’s downtown Duluth medical campus, the operation is boasting a workforce in which 16.5% of the crew members are from groups traditionally underrepresented in construction — women, minorities and veterans, for example. That’s more than double our initial goal of 8%.

It reflects the project’s commitment to inclusion, said Tom Johnson, field coordinator for McGough, Essentia’s construction partner. Almost 1 in 5 workers are classified as underrepresented.

“This is a great indication that McGough’s internal and external partners take the VNL goals seriously,” Johnson said.

“Before shovels were even in the ground, we made it our goal to create a very diverse workforce for this project,” said Dr. Robert Erickson, Essentia’s physician lead for Vision Northland. “As we near the halfway mark, we are not only meeting but far exceeding what we set out to do. It’s important for us to keep that momentum going and continue creating opportunities for a diverse workforce.”

At about 47% complete, the project eventually will result in a state-of-the-art replacement for St. Mary’s Medical Center. Currently, there are more than 500 workers on-site each day, a number that could reach 600. As that crew grows, McGough and Essentia are committed to ensuring the percentage of underrepresented workers remains high.

“This project represents not only our commitment to our patients, but to all those who live and work in the diverse communities we serve,” said Dr. Erickson. “All the trade workers involved in this historic project have a huge impact on this state-of-the-art medical center and we are grateful for the opportunity to involve a high number of underrepresented workers on this project.”

With more than 750,000 project-hours already logged on the project, Johnson says even though Essentia and McGough are exceeding their goals, maintaining them is a daily focus.

Construction of vision Northland project in duluth, mnFor employees like Allison Menges, an on-site safety coordinator who fits into the underrepresented group, being part of a high-profile project like Vision Northland is a dream come true.

“It has been a great privilege to be involved in a project that will have a lasting impact on this region,” said Menges. “At VNL, I am proud to be one of many strong, smart women making a career in the trades and having an impact. There are increasing opportunities for women on construction sites across the country and even though we may be considered underrepresented workers, we play an important role. I don’t see this changing but continuing to improve as workforces diversify and more people get involved in this rewarding field.”

Vincent “Vinnie” Munoz is another person who is considered underrepresented. He has spent 35 years working construction. After more than three decades in the trades, his job on the Vision Northland site includes sheet rocking, fireproofing, insulation and more.

“Everybody here works as one group. If anyone needs help, we all work together and everyone is happy, just working to get it done,” said Munoz.

Menges believes what’s happening on the Vision Northland project is a sign of things to come.

“I have seen the culture changing in the construction industry for the better as more and more women join the trades, along with the acceptance and respect of our hard work from those we work right next to,” she said.

Menges encourages anyone, regardless of their background, to consider a career in the trades.

Crews already have reached the top of the clinic tower and have been installing glass panels since January. The building will be enclosed in early 2022.

To coordinate interviews, photos, and/or video, contact the media relations team.

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