By: Donald C. Fry 

The more than 230 business executives who attended the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Bridging the Gap minority business awards on December 8 got a first-hand glimpse of why the private sector – not government – is a primary driver of minority business growth.

For most of the seven minority-owned and woman-owned 2014 Bridging the Gap Award winners who were honored for outstanding business achievement, their success is rooted in relationships with private-sector customers and partners.

For example, award winners for business achievement by minority-owned or woman-owned firms include Sue Ann’s Office Supply, whose owner, Beverly Williams-Trimble, has quietly grown her fledgling company into a widely-known regional supplier of products ranging from printing supplies to office machines and furniture.

There’s Juxtopia, a cutting-edge firm out of Baltimore City’s Emerging Technology Center founded 12 years ago by IT engineer Dr. Jayfus Doswell. Juxtopia’s products include a goggle-like wearable training and support system for automotive assembly-line workers.

Then there’s Verve Partnership, a five-year-old boutique interior architecture firm whose founder, Kelly Ennis, leveraged her design and management experience to grow her business into a successful firm with 11 employees and $1.2 million in revenue.

Also named winners of 2014 Bridging the Gap Awards for outstanding business achievement were:

* Devaney and Associates.  Since its founding in 1991, this woman-owned advertising and marketing firm, led by Diane Devaney, has experienced sales increases every year and has consistently achieved measurable, award-winning results for its clients. Major customer growth since 2009 has nearly doubled.

* Mahan Rykiel Associates. This award-winning landscape architecture firm was founded in 1983 by Catherine Mahan in a two-room studio staffed by a small group of women. Today Mahan Rykiel has 45 employees.

* Richman Associates, LLC. Launched by Dr. Elaine Richman 14 years ago, this bioscience communications firm now has clients coast-to-coast and worldwide, including the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins University.

* Urban Policy Development.  Douglass Austin founded this management consulting firm, which specializes in helping public school districts and education agencies. In eight years the firm has grown from a staff of four to more than 45 employees.

The Bridging the Gap Awards also highlighted critical roles played by five majority-owned companies as mentors and facilitators of minority and woman-owned business growth. 

BGE and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center were presented awards for leadership in demonstrating inclusive business practices.

BGE’s initiatives seek to grow the capacity of local minority-owned businesses by helping them successfully compete for BGE contracts. In 2013, BGE spent a record $151 million with minority- and woman-owned suppliers – a 30 percent increase over 2012.

The Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center has emerged as a nationally-recognized leader in diversity and inclusion. Its initiatives include generating summer employment opportunities for minority students pursuing careers in health care and life sciences and programs to support leadership development among the medical center’s women and under-represented minorities.

Three partnerships between majority-owned firms and minority-owned businesses were honored for their success.

A partnership between BGE and minority-owned SRB Communications developed creative approaches and messages for “Focus 25,” BGE’s supplier development program launched in 2013 to enhance the capacity of local minority-owned businesses to compete for BGE contracts.

Pearson, a London-based worldwide learning company with offices in New York, has built a partnership with BCP Digital Printing, a Baltimore-based minority-owned print and document processing company. Pearson has worked closely with BCP Digital to identify opportunities to expand its business opportunities not just in Maryland, but in other states where Pearson is seeking new ventures.

Turner Construction Company and minority-owned firms Cain Contracting Company and Essex Construction Company partnered on the Maryland Public Health lab project in East Baltimore. The partnership far exceeded goals for new minority hires and for hiring Baltimore City residents for the project. Among other things, Turner also conducted a construction management program to 32 Baltimore-based construction companies, from which six subcontractor graduates were offered contracts to participate in the project.

Meanwhile, the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), which was honored with a Bridging the Gap President’s Award, has been one of the strongest proponents of and participants in the GBC’s Bridging the Gap initiative since its inception 11 years ago.  It enthusiastically embraced the initiative’s focus on increasing hospital procurement from minority-owned and women-owned suppliers.  Today more than 25 percent of UMMS construction spending and 21 percent of hospital supplies spending goes to diverse suppliers.

While government programs play an important role in priming minority and woman entrepreneurs for business success through government contacts, the ultimate sustainability for most of these entrepreneurs will be achieved through private sector customers and partners.

That’s because any growing economy is driven by the private-sector, not government. That’s where the American dream resides.  That’s where unlimited opportunity lurks.

But don’t take my word for it. Ask Calvin Butler, CEO of BGE, which nurtures diversity and inclusion in virtually every aspect of its business. Butler delivered keynote remarks at the Bridging the Gap Awards.

In Baltimore City, for example, nurturing minority business development is about providing access to opportunity in the private sector, which benefits both minority and woman entrepreneurs, but the larger economy as well, he reasons.

“We are a majority-minority city,” Butler said. “We cannot significantly improve our business climate if we do not invite everyone to the party.”

What drives Butler’s company to put so much energy into minority- and woman-owned business development?

“For us it goes beyond just doing the right thing,” Butler said. “We know that these partnerships help drive our business results.” 

Minority partners have helped BGE improve service reliability, customer service at BGE’s contact centers and community-based communication initiatives.

“We also know that successful business partnerships such as these can achieve objectives on a much wider scale,” he said. And in the process, “they create real wealth in communities.”

The bottom line?

“In 2014, BGE will finish its best year ever in terms of reliability and customer satisfaction,” Butler said. BGE is achieving those numbers “not in spite of, but because of” minority and woman-owned business partners, he added.

Clearly opportunity continues to exist in both minority and majority business sectors for those who would seize it.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.