Anchoring Job Creation in Baltimore
B’More Organic, a small Baltimore based drinkable yogurt company, recently began selling its products to Maryland Institute College of Art and Loyola University through new relationships forged at a vendor fair this past summer. Spurred by this and other new contracts, this micro-enterprise is searching for new real estate in the City and is anticipating hiring staff to accommodate market growth.
Realizing the purchasing power of anchor institutions to support local businesses and in turn create jobs is the focus of a new report, "A Roadmap for Anchor Institution Local Food Purchasing in Baltimore". Authored by Karp Resources, the report explores food procurement processes in anchor institutions, and identifies a range of strategies to more fully realize local purchasing power. The report recommends actions to support local minority-owned and small businesses, modifications to procurement processes, and outlines legislative opportunities to connect purchasing power to businesses in reinvestment areas. Many of the recommendations are applicable not just to food but other services and commodities as well.
The report further argues that the "actions and methodology used to change procurement processes can serve as a model for the private sector, compounding local job growth and economic impact.” That premise is a goal for the Baltimore Integration Partnership (BIP), a collaboration of anchor institutions, foundations, government and nonprofit partners working to explore the economic development power of anchors institutions. Anchors are heavily invested partners in our communities with a self interest in safe, attractive and vibrant neighborhoods to attract students and faculty. Anchors cannot do it alone, however, and local purchasing power is not unlimited. Local purchasing strategies can be a catalytic force for employment but only one ingredient in a recipe for economic development in Baltimore.
A second important ingredient is small business technical assistance and access to financial services. An inventory of public and private programs to help businesses grow their companies completed earlier this year for the BIP and Associated Black Charities finds that there are a range of resources available but that a key challenge for businesses is market identification and training in how to make the sale. It also finds that companies may not know about some of the programs available to them and that many of the programs are not effectively tracking their clients or measuring success.
To this end, local partners are working to bolster small business resources. Baltimore Development Corporation recently announced their goals to expand and strengthen small business investment programs. Johns Hopkins University (JHU) announced a pilot technical assistance program to support women and minority owned businesses to help them increase their ability to meet the purchasing needs of large area employers including anchors. Finally, a range of local stakeholders are collaborating on the Food Hub, a new food business incubator which is expected to break ground early next year in east Baltimore. The Food Hub will support culinary enterprises with technical assistance including help with accessing new contracts such as those with anchor institutions while working to connect area residents to jobs that the businesses create.
Local purchasing strategies to support area businesses can generate much needed jobs for Baltimore. However collective action is also needed to be successful as well as an enabling environment to intentionally leverage anchor institution purchasing to build opportunities for area businesses and residents.
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