Inner City Renovations (ICR) is an award-winning social enterprise founded in 2002 with the goal of providing quality, full-time, permanent jobs for people living in Winnipeg’s inner city and facing barriers to employment.
Assiniboine Credit Union’s McGregor Branch was the first time ICR has been Assiniboine’s general contractor, but they have worked on two other Assiniboine branches—Main Street at River Road and the LEED-certified branch at Pembina and Bairdmore.
ICR has approximately 40 employees, all of whom have faced challenges to enter or re-enter the workforce, including mental health or addictions issues, a criminal record, or a lack of education or driving license. ICR provides a stable and supportive work environment and works closely with community agencies that provide other necessary supports.
With a bottom line that reflects the famous slogan “People Before Profits”, does this mean that ICR’s jobs are heavily subsidized? “Not at all” says Executive Director, John Baker. “We certainly face challenges working in a hugely competitive construction environment. We complicate that by putting in a social outcome on top of that and our profitability is not the same as our competitors,” he admits. “But we can compete commercially. Can we compete with the lowest bidders? Absolutely not. Can we compete with the middle of the pack? Absolutely. For quality, we are as good as anybody else.”
The jobs created by ICR also provide a social return on investment by reducing welfare costs. And the company invests in the North End with more than pay cheques. It has a commitment to local sourcing. “As an example we purchase products from Pollock’s Hardware Co-op,” says Baker, “and we give preference to sub-contractors who will hire individuals from the local community.”
Baker moved from Toronto in 2010 to take the helm of ICR and likes what he sees. “I used to do some work in inner-city Philadelphia where the problem is massive and goes on for blocks and blocks,” he says. “Then I came to Winnipeg and, not to underestimate the challenges here, but you can actually feel the direct impact—on the city and the guys who work for us. It’s exciting.”
What does he think about the contribution that Assiniboine’s branch at McGregor will have on the North End? “Ít’s huge. I’ve worked all over the place—inner-city Toronto, Newark, Chicago, Philadelphia. The first thing to flee is banking. The last thing to come back is banking. In between, all the money lenders and the payday-loan crowds who pretend to be banks move in. So this is a major commitment from Assiniboine’s perspective!”
Excerpt from asterisk print edition February 2012.