Rouse Co. lauded for promoting equal employment opportunities Firm is among eight given awards by Labor Department

September 20, 1996|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

The U.S. Department of Labor yesterday recognized the Rouse Co. as one of eight firms nationwide that has promoted equal employment opportunities in the workplace.

Specifically, the $4.8 billion real estate firm received the 1996 Exemplary Voluntary Efforts award for the planned city of Columbia, revitalizing urban areas through projects such as Harborplace, philanthropic activities and internal affirmative action programs.

In Columbia, Rouse began developing the 15,000-acre project in the early 1960s with an eye toward creating a "racially, ethnically and economically diverse community," the Labor Department said. The community, which now has more than 75,000 residents, has been cited as a model for various similar communities nationwide.

"This is a special tribute, because the actions and activities for which we are being honored reflect the essence of the Rouse Co.'s corporate goals and our corporate culture," said Rouse President and Chief Executive Officer Anthony W. Deering, who accepted the award at a ceremony in Washington.

Rouse, one of eight winners from more than 80 nominations, was recommended for the award after an audit of federal contractors. The company is considered a federal contractor because it leases space to companies such as McDonald's Corp., which in turn have contracts with the military and other government agencies.

The annual awards, presented since 1983, stem from President Lyndon B. Johnson's Executive Order 11126, which established rules for equal employment and affirmative action in 1965.

Joining Rouse as award winners were KeyCorp. of Cleveland; Colgate-Palmolive of New York; Armstrong World Industries Inc. of Lancaster, Pa.; Cigna Inc. of Philadelphia; the Florida State University; Allstate Insurance of Northbrook, Ill.; and Northern Trust Bank Corp., of Chicago.

"Thank you for being models, for being examples to the rest of the country that affirmative action can work, that it can contribute to a company overall and that it can contribute to the bottom line," said Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich in presenting the awards.

In addition to its work in Columbia, Rouse donates more than $1 million annually to charities such as Jubilee Housing of Washington, D.C., a group created by company founder James W. Rouse to provide affordable rents to poor families.

Ironically, though, the award for promoting a diverse community such as Columbia comes at a time when Rouse has received criticism from various quarters for abandoning much of the James Rouse-inspired model there.

In recent years, Rouse has been attacked by housing advocates and shareholders alike for failing to provide adequate low- to moderate-income housing in Columbia, where the average price of a single-family home far exceeds the average in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Deering said Rouse has recently donated land for Enterprise Foundation and Shelter Development Co. housing projects that will add new low- to moderate-income housing in Columbia, and blamed the termination of government subsidies for the lack of more development in that area.

"Affirmative action is not about quotas," Reich said. "It's not about decreasing opportunities for one group while increasing them for another. It is a conscious decision to make the web and the net larger. It means finding talent out there and training them and promoting them so that everybody wins."

Pub Date: 9/20/96

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