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In Wake of Racial Tensions, Baltimore Business Community Doubles Down on Local Investments

Written by Amanda Maher

When it comes to anchor institutions investing in their local communities, there are a handful of institutions that we typically point to as leading examples: the University of Pennsylvania for its broad community investment; Syracuse University for its Near West Side Initiative; the institutions participating in Cleveland’s University Circle; and Johns Hopkins University for its role in an ambitious $1.8 billion plan to revitalize 88 acres in East Baltimore.

These efforts require an all-hands-on-deck approach from the entire business community.

And in Baltimore, Johns Hopkins is leading the way.

Last September, Johns Hopkins announced HopkinsLocal, the institution’s commitment to, by 2018:

  • Fill 40% of targeted positions by hiring from within Baltimore’s most distressed communities;
  • Increase (by at least $6 million over three years) the amount of foods and services the university and health system purchase from Baltimore-based businesses and MWBEs;
  • Enlist at least 24 suppliers from outside the area that Hopkins will hold accountable to hire, procure and invest locally; and
  • Spend at least $20 million in design, consulting, and construction work with minority, women, and disadvantaged businesses by applying new targets across all Hopkins construction projects.

The timing of the announcement was no accident. The sudden death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, an African American man who died while in the custody of Baltimore police just a few months prior, had the entire city on edge. Racial tensions grew and riots ensued.

Ronald J. Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University, and Ronald R. Peterson, president of Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, reflected on the situation. “Last spring, the unrest in Baltimore shed light on the racial and economic disparities that challenge our city and our nation,” they wrote in a message to students, faculty and staff. They pledged to “renew and reaffirm” the institution’s commitment to supporting the city. “We are redoubling our longstanding efforts, knowing that the health and well-being of Johns Hopkins are inextricably tied to the physical, social, and economic well-being of Baltimore.”

When the Hopkins University board of trustees met in November last year, one trustee asked why more prominent Baltimore companies and institutions weren’t doing the same.

“We were in,” said Michael D. Hankin, President and CEO of Brown Advisory and the trustee who had posed the question. “I turned to Blake Cordish from the Cordish Cos., and he said they were in.” As they went around the table, others followed suit.

After the meeting, Hankin’s outreach to Hopkins Trustees and Baltimore businesses continued. Before long, T. Rowe Price, DLA Piper, Under Armour, Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE) and PricewaterhouseCoopers had all jumped on board, as did many others.

In April 2016, the group of 25 Baltimore-area businesses unveiled its sweeping plan aimed at harnessing their collective influence to help strengthen the city and create opportunities for local residents. Their plan, “BLocal,” was modeled after HopkinsLocal and uses the same strategy: Build, Buy and Hire Locally.

Many of the BLocal partners already have significant existing community impact programs.  For instance, BGE has spent more than $60 million with local minority-owned suppliers and understands how to track the results of its program. BGE plans to share insights into this process with other BLocal partners. By aligning efforts and sharing best practices, the companies will be able to amplify their individual efforts across the city.

Collectively, BLocal partners have promised to inject $69 million into the Baltimore community over the next three years (a figure that includes the prior commitment of HopkinsLocal). It is estimated that roughly $53 million will be spent on renovation and construction projects, and $16 million in goods and services will be purchased from businesses headed by local and MWBEs. That investment is expected to grow as more companies join the coalition, and as partners determine exactly how much they will invest in the initiative and in what areas.

To get things started, the group pledged to provide summer jobs to 336 inner city youth and hire 162 adults from Baltimore’s most impoverished neighborhoods. “You cannot have a healthy community and a safe community unless you have jobs,” says Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. “And that’s why the BLocal effort is so very very important…I’m grateful to all the companies that have come together.”

BLocal has also launched BUILD College, an expert-led program that will provide construction and business training for small MWBEs and disadvantaged businesses in the design and construction industries in Baltimore. Through a series of seminars, companies can build critical skills like reading architectural drawings, bidding and legal/contracting considerations, project management, financial management, human resources, bonding/surety, insurance, safety and quality management. In addition to this educational programming, BUILD College will teach companies how to navigate the process of working with larger organizations like the Johns Hopkins Institutions and other BLocal partners.

While a number of anchor institutions have joined forces in the past to leverage collective impact (see CASE Chicago and Cleveland’s Greater University Circle Initiative), the size and scale of this collaboration is truly unprecedented.

Diane Bell McKoy, president and CEO of Associated Black Charities of Maryland says it best: “BLocal demonstrates a business community not focused on business as usual, but an enlightened business community that clearly understands the linkage between their success and the success of citizens who have not always had access to opportunities.”

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