Mayor Kurt Schmoke has called on Baltimore's business community to follow the city's lead and earmark 23 percent of its contracting, purchasing and professional services business to firms owned by women and minorities.
The mayor also has asked the Greater Baltimore Committee, the city's leading business group, to draft a report on businesses headed by minorities and women in Baltimore.
Schmoke said yesterday that businesses owned by minorities and women "have to move beyond government purchasing and contracting and move to the private sector" if the city's minority communities are ever going to develop strong economic bases.
Schmoke made his remarks to the GBC last week during the group's gala annual dinner at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore, during which the business group announced its "vision" of establishing Baltimore as an international headquarters for life sciences.
Because Schmoke's comments came without warning, and because of the attention being paid to the group's life sciences theme, there was little opportunity for the GBC to respond, a top GBC official said yesterday.
"Any time the mayor issues this kind of challenge, you have to take a serious look at it," said Robert Keller, GBC president.
Schmoke, however, said that one section of the GBC's vision paper talked about "inclusiveness," thus his remarks were timely.
"I plan to use other occasions to emphasize these points," Schmoke said.
Keller said that he has not heard much reaction from GBC members to Schmoke's challenge. He also pointed out that the group has made efforts over the years to help minority businesses.
For example, Keller pointed out that nine years ago the GBC established the $7.5 million Development Credit Fund for minority businesses.
In his comments, Schmoke urged the GBC to make its vision "inclusive. Baltimore is now almost 60 percent African-American, with a large diversity of other minority groups," he said. "Our city cannot be the economic success story all of us want if the majority of our people are left behind."
Schmoke has come under constant fire from some quarters for not doing enough to promote minority businesses. But in his comments to the GBC, Schmoke said that his administration has awarded a total of $135 million in contracts to firms owned by women and minorities since 1988.
The city's set-aside law has a goal of giving 20 percent of municipal contracts to minority-owned firms and another 3 percent to firms owned by women.
"This is a huge increase over the previous three years, but it only tells us part of the story," Schmoke said. "But a public sector commitment to minority and women contractors is not enough. The GBC and the private sector must make a similar commitment."
Schmoke added that "the time is past for delaying and debating the question of opening up Baltimore's development to minorities and women. Now it's time for action."
The mayor said the developers of three major private sector projects -- Inner Harbor East, The University of Maryland Medical Systems and The Christopher Columbus Center -- have committed themselves to a "fair representation of minorities and women."