December 11, 2017

Baltimore Hiring, Buying Initiative for Local, Minority-Owned Businesses Exceeds Three-Year Goal in First Year

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A local and minority-owned business hiring and buying initiative by some of Baltimore’s largest employers says it has exceeded its three-year goal for contract spending in its first year.

Members of BLocal, made up of 25 businesses and nonprofits, spent $86.1 million on contracts, goods and services with local, minority-owned and women-owned businesses in the program’s inaugural year, the group said in a progress report released Monday.

The initiative launched in April 2016 with a pledge to spend $69 million over three years on jobs, contracts, goods and services to improve economic opportunity for local businesses and residents, especially those living in distressed neighborhoods with high unemployment.

“BLocal started with broad commitments from a diverse group of Baltimore-area businesses that believe in this city,” BLocal Co-Chairman Ronald J. Daniels, president of the Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement. “This report quantifies our efforts on those commitments and holds us accountable to our collective aims.”

Daniels said he was emboldened by the first-year results, and that the group is “determined to redouble our efforts going forward.”

The group created the initiative in response to the frustration that many expressed following the riots of 2015. It is modeled after the Hopkins Local program, which is similarly focused on local hiring.

Since launching, BLocal has grown to 27 companies, including Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., M&T Bank and Whiting-Turner.

The first-year results were driven largely by several significant construction projects.

Just under $74 million of the $86.1 million came from contract spending by four BLocal members as part of major construction projects, the group reported. Brown Advisory, 1st Mariner Bank and The Cordish Cos. spent a combined $18.3 million. Hopkins committed $55.5 million.

The remaining $12.3 million came from six BLocal member companies that increased spending for goods and services with local vendors and minority- and women-owned businesses.

“This is a huge step in the right direction by some corporations and anchor institutions that have a tremendous amount of visibility and significance to the growth of our city,” state Del. Nick Mosby said.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said it is important that some of the city’s largest employers have taken the lead in encouraging businesses to intensify their focus on local hiring.

“Hopkins is a major contractor and a major employer in this region, let alone the city,” Clarke said. “As they go, so go many sister and brother institutions.”

BLocal member companies also made strides in hiring, according to the report. M&T Bank, Whiting-Turner, WPM Real Estate Management and the Johns Hopkins University and Health System hired 470 city residents in the program’s first year.

Anirban Basu, chariman and CEO of Sage Policy Group, said hiring initiatives driven by the private sector can be especially powerful because they are a sign that big businesses are invested in the city.

But ramping up hiring isn’t enough, he said. Businesses that truly want to make a difference must also find ways to help new hires retain their jobs and advance in a career.

“That’s really not enough to begin to transform neighborhoods and people’s lives,” Basu said. “What’s more important is the next step of connecting people who need work, for whom there are often significant barriers to sustained employment.”

Several BLocal members are also involved in BUILD College, a program that provides business training to construction contractors.

Renard Gardner, a master electrician in Baltimore, said the 13-week program gave him the business skills he needed to elevate his company, Vessel Electric.

“A lot of people in the trades, we start off knowing a skill to build, not a skill to run a business or network or negotiate,” Gardner said.

Since Gardner completed the program last year, Vessel Electric has grown from 10 to 17 workers and is pursuing bigger contracts.

BLocal companies also worked with Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development, or BUILD, a group of civic and church leaders and community members, to reach city residents in need of job training. The group is not affiliated with the BUILD College.

Rob English, a lead organizer for BUILD, said the organization was pleased to see smaller companies following the example set by the city’s largest employers.

“The significance of BLocal is that it’s a true telltale sign that other employers have stepped up,” he said. “As a city we have to continue that work.”