The Illinois Department of Transportation announced Wednesday it will make it mandatory that contractors hire underrepresented individuals for state construction jobs.
Jessica Wernli, director of United Congregations of the Metro-East, said her group was one of many working with IDOT to "ensure that there is diversity in their workforce.
"We invited them here to see the need that's here. We wanted to put a face on what's happening here for them."
IDOT Interim Secretary Ann Schneider said it was a good opportunity to see what was happening in the community.
"Gov. Pat Quinn said we needed to work really hard on diversity and inclusion," she said.
During the visit, Schneider also heard from some East St. Louis contractors who said they have had a hard time finding work while outside contractors were hired for jobs in the region.
We have a lot of people here who are eager to work and who can do the job. All we need is an opportunity," said Antonio Johnson, 40, of East St. Louis. Johnson has 15 years experience as a painter.
"I am very happy that IDOT's PLA agreement has to include a diverse workforce. This, hopefully, means more jobs for minorities and people in East St. Louis," he said.
Brooks Hairston, 78, showed off his certification signed by Schneider "certifying me to be a minority contractor.
"With my DBE, I will be able to bid on highway jobs and I can hire my own people. I am very excited about the PLA. It's going to open up opportunities for us."
Wernli said the group of people who attended Wednesday's ceremony included licensed contractors, local citizens, clergy, local leaders and Schneider, came from Chicago, Springfield and other parts of Illinois. They were taken on a bus tour of East St. Louis and were given a history of East St. Louis.
"It was a place that thrived with job opportunities. Now, there are some opportunities, but the opportunities are not equally accessible," Wernli said.
"We are all proud of what we accomplished together," said Ron Trimmer, chair of the jobs task force.