Recently, a group of elected officials who represent Baltimore's east side held a press conference calling for more inclusion of minority-owned firms and more jobs for their constituents through the $300 million in ongoing construction projects generated byEast Baltimore Development Inc.(
Surprisingly, they proposed to achieve their objective of increasing construction employment and inclusion by acting to "shut down" several construction projects.
As president of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association and the owner of P&J Contracting in Baltimore, I share their desire to increase economic inclusion. But as a business owner, I am driven by facts. And the fact is that shutting down construction in East Baltimore, or threatening to do so, will only harm our city — driving away future investment and putting dozens of our neighbors out of work.
At their press conference, the elected officials focused particularly on minority participation in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Maryland Public Health Laboratory. This project, to be leased by the state, has only recently begun construction, so any snapshot of inclusion or local hiring is incomplete. What went unmentioned, however, is that through January, minority- and women-owned firms have won 37 percent of EBDI's contracts — or $67 million of $181.7 million. This exceeds the state government's 25 percent goal and the city government's 35 percent goal.
I've seen this commitment firsthand. My company recently completed a demolition project that cleared the site of a new public school, which will be built with private funds. One hundred percent of the work was done by minority-owned firms, including my company and Unlimited Trucking, which is owned by an East Baltimore resident and based in East Baltimore. The school will be built by RAM Contracting, a minority-owned firm in Baltimore.
The reality is that EBDI has one of the best inclusion programs in the country. When your company gets a job, you are told to hire people from within the community through EBDI's pipeline. And EBDI presses prime contractors to use minority subcontractors, which is illustrated by the high percentage of contracts going to minority- and women-owned firms. All of these actions ensure that investment is coming back to the East Baltimore community.
We need to be realistic and recognize that one redevelopment project — even one of EBDI's size and scope — is not going to reverse all that has occurred in Baltimore's more impoverished neighborhoods over the past 50 years.
Men and women seeking employment in East Baltimore who rightfully are pressing their elected officials to provide help are not going to gain employment without greater investment in job training. If the skills of a neighborhood's workforce don't match the available jobs, this is a problem that government, business and the nonprofit sector must work to solve together. Currently, demand for job training far outstrips the supply in our city. Our elected officials could make a significant impact by working to identify and direct resources to train East Baltimore's workforce.
Finally, it's important to recall the true purpose of the East Baltimore redevelopment project. The goal, from the start, has been to rebuild a community that was suffering from abandonment, blight and violence — leveraging the presence of Maryland's largest private employer, Johns Hopkins.
Anyone who visits the EBDI area today will see progress, not just in businesses like mine hiring local employees but in new houses and apartments, a future world-class school, new retail stores coming back for the first time in decades, and a long-overdue connection being created between Hopkins and the community that sits next door.
The signal that is sent to businesses and foundations when local officials call for a "shutdown" is that these investments shouldn't be made — there is too much uncertainty. Hopefully, our elected officials will realize that we will achieve more by moving forward and by making improvements, together. High standards and rapid progress should not be mutually exclusive.