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Baltimore Sun Commentary: A commitment to ‘BLocal’ in Baltimore

Baltimore Sun Commentary: A commitment to ‘BLocal’ in Baltimore

This commentary originally appeared in the April 7 Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Sun Op-Ed by Calvin Butler, Ronald Daniels, Ron Peterson

Monday morning, we stood with a group of Baltimore leaders in the sanctuary of the Zion Baptist Church in East Baltimore to launch an economic initiative that has united more than two dozen companies in a quantifiable effort to build, hire, buy and invest locally, right here in our city.

It is a moment, and a coalition, that draws its impact from a shared conviction that we, together, can do more.

We have grown ever more attuned to the challenges of Baltimore: the gaping disparities in the health and welfare of our residents from one corner of the city to another; the corrosive effect of violence, not only on its immediate victims, but on our families, schools and neighborhoods; and the resignation that inevitably seeps into a person who has lost a job or a sense of promise.

The initiative we announced — BLocal — stands as the commitment of 25 local organizations to this city and its future. It is a public recognition that our business choices matter, not only on big projects but in everyday decisions around how we choose our contractors, whom we hire or where we buy our supplies.

Over the next three years alone, BLocal affiliates, large and small, representing a host of sectors, have pledged to invest at least an additional $69 million in our city. We will increase design and construction contracts with local, minority-owned and women-owned companies, expand our hires from distressed neighborhoods, purchase more from Baltimore-based vendors and generate direct investments in our community.

None of the BLocal companies is new to local investment or community support in Baltimore. We participate in summer jobs programs for youth. We adhere to goals for economic inclusion on our work sites. We offer employees incentives to live locally. We support the nonprofits and community-based organizations that undertake vital human services efforts across our city. But the frustration and anger unleashed after the tragic death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore nearly one year ago testifies to the fact that we — collectively and urgently — have more to do.

BGE and Johns Hopkins have long stood as anchor institutions in this city, lighting its homes, its businesses and its minds. Our ties to Baltimore are rooted in our foundings and reinforced by our 15,000 employees who are city residents. So, as the coverage of Baltimore unfolded last spring, representatives at both organizations felt a heightened sense of responsibility to our community.

At Johns Hopkins, which has a complex history with this city, this sense of responsibility led us to add to significant partnerships throughout Baltimore in areas of research, services and health care. In the past year, our efforts have spanned the spectrum of our mission, from faculty research into local crisis response or violence reduction to new long-term partnerships with city schools, focusing on STEM education, career-development and the future of our children.

At BGE, we also understand that we must address the underlying disparities of access and opportunity. This month, we welcomed 10 new businesses into BGE’s nationally recognized Focus 25 program, developed in 2013 to create opportunities for economic wealth in the communities we serve. These 10 companies will join the 18 minority, women and veteran-owned suppliers who received an in-depth overview of BGE’s business and procurement processes, along with insight on how to be a successful partner. We are also working directly with high schools, trade schools and community organizations to give students hands-on experience through internships and apprenticeships. In support of BLocal, we recently launched the Smart Energy Workforce Development Program to provide training resources to prepare individuals for the Construction and Skilled Trade (CAST) test, a utility industry standard that is a first step on the path to a career in energy.

While every one of these efforts is important, we believe BLocal has the potential to shift the foundation of our local economic landscape, to open new doors to individuals and small businesses that have faced a dearth of opportunities and to tie our community together in new ways.

To some, BLocal may sound like the kind of promise that corporations make — and later forget. But we are determined to ensure this is not a passing whim. Each partner has published their commitments on a shared web site (blocalbaltimore.org) and agreed to monitor their data-driven goals over time and to publicly share our progress. We expect to be held accountable. And we will watch closely to ensure our commitments help to reshape this city’s future in the years ahead.

Calvin G. Butler Jr. (cbutler@bge.com) is chief executive of BGE, Ronald J. Daniels (president@jhu.edu) is president of Johns Hopkins University, and Ronald R. Peterson (greenwo@jhmi.edu) is president of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System and executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Read more at the Baltimore Sun.