City contracts to minorities and women nearly doubled in four years, Mayor Martin O'Malley announced yesterday.
The value of the awards jumped from $44.7 million in 2000 to $83.1 million in 2004, the mayor said at a City Hall news conference, surrounded by minority and female business owners who benefited from the city's efforts.
"It's good to say that you're in favor of minority business development," O'Malley said. "But our city can actually prove every year the strides we are making."
One of the mayor's stated priorities has been to boost minority awards so that they made up 35 percent of all city contracts. The figures released yesterday equal about 30 percent of eligible contracts.
When calculating the percentage, the city doesn't count all city awards, only the contracts in which minority firms were available to do the work. If the city compiled the figures using all contracts, the percentage would be much lower.
"Are we where we want to be? No," O'Malley said. "But we're making progress."
While the overall number of contracts might be short of O'Malley's goal, he and Samuel Lloyd, director of the Mayor's Office of Minority Business Development, say a major sign of progress is that minority-owned firms are more involved in integral city developments than ever before.
Last year, 24 of 45 Baltimore Development Corp. projects involved minority-owned firms. Those included the $90 million Centerpoint retail and residential complex on the city's west side; Lockwood Place, a $50 million downtown shopping center; and Frankford Estates, a project that will bring 176 homes to East Baltimore.
"Equity is an idea whose time has come in the minority and female business community," said Ronald Lipscomb, who is building Frankford Estates. "The [O'Malley] administration has taken a concept and transformed it into the norm."
The city's announcement comes more than a month after skeptical comments by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer about the statewide Minority Business Enterprise program.
At a public meeting in February, Schaefer asked, "When does MBE end - E.N.D.?" Ehrlich responded that he hoped "to end this program at a certain point in time," but later said that the continuing "uneven playing field" means "we're simply not there yet."
The state has set a goal of 25 percent minority business participation.
City Council President Sheila Dixon said that it used to be a "battle" to get city elected officials to consider minority business involvement. But now that city leaders have made it a priority, she said, one can see the results.
"They hire people that look like you and I," Dixon said. "They hire people that reflect what the city looks like."