Washington Minority Contractors’ Association
June 8, 2007
I really appreciate what you are doing to make our state a better place, not just for ourselves, but more importantly for the children with whom we are going to leave this state.
We had a great memorial service… for Parren Mitchell earlier this week, and there was a lot to say. And that’s why I’m meeting with you all. What a tremendous man, with a tremendously powerful American vision. A vision that says that economic opportunities should be open to all people. None of us, regardless of our ethnic background, regardless of the color of our skin, want our children to grow up in a world where some groups have economic opportunity and other groups do not.
All of us want our children to be able to grow up in an America that is able to fully harness and realize the strength of that notion of a glorious new world, many people from different backgrounds coming together to make one strong country and, indeed, that is what we’re talking about when we talk about One Maryland.
In the past, when I would come before you as Mayor of the city of Baltimore, I could always, very proudly rattle off where we are on a year to day basis, how that compared to the past, and what it said about where we were going in the future. In the city of Baltimore, I was able to tell you, in my last visit before you, that we had, in five short years, nearly doubled our MDE awards from $44.7 million up to $93.4 million, moving our percentage of eligible contracts from 14% to 30%. Not by trying once a year, not by trying once every four years when it’s election time, but by trying in every single department all across our city government. By monitoring, by tracking, and by opening those opportunities… including equity investments as County Executive Smith so kindly mentioned.
I’d like to be able to tell you exactly where the state was last year and exactly where we are this year. I’d like to be able to tell you that, but I can’t because the state never really put in a lot of the systems for tracking those things. Sometimes when the state would pass a few of the things we need for improving it, they would bring in an economist to do a regression analysis, and they would also write formulas to tell you what the problem would be. So what I can tell you is that even though in recent years, in our great state where our diversity is our strength, the number of minority businesses… has grown tremendously, their utilization as a percentage of a whole… has actually declined. We think, most likely, that the percentage of African American firms is somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 to 7 percent in the last year. Probably, maybe distorted.
So that’s where we start, but that’s not where we end. The good news is that elections do matter and now… with Nancy Kopp on my right and Peter Franchot on my left… we have a Board of Public Works that is absolutely vocal, absolutely insistent and absolutely committed to improving minority and women owned business development in our state. And there are two themes that I think most of you have gleamed from reading the newspaper and the coverage of those Board of Public Works meetings, which no longer play to the high levels of drama and theatrics that they did for my mentor and former tormentor William Donald Shaffer. But a few things that you hear we are doing: we are standing up for the environment, and we’re also standing up for minorities and women owned businesses and making sure there is equal opportunity for all. And I want to ask our new Secretary of Minority Business Development, Luwanda Jenkins, to stand. Luwanda is a veteran of state government… she knows just how despairing it is across state government and she’s got the energy and the enthusiasm to take us to the next level so we can implement those systems for tracking and monitoring and driving.
… When I come back to you next year I will be able to tell you, as I have told you as Mayor, where we are at a year to day basis… We have a lot of work to do, but we have already done it on a smaller scale, and now we have the opportunity to do it on a larger scale, working with the entire state.
First, we have already brought to state government, and to this mission, the professional, competent leadership to make our minority enterprise program great. Now that’s not just in Secretary Jenkins department, but that’s across state government. Every secretary of every department understands that minority, women owned businesses are a top priority for everyone in this administration and each of the department heads. I saw Sam Lloyd, who is now the Deputy Secretary at DBED, in charge of small business development. We also recently appointed Karen Gooden as assistant secretary of Transportation who will also work with Zenita Hurley to make the program move forward with integrity, with openness, and with transparency.
Secondly, we are going to set, measure and report transparent goals and outcomes. I already touched on that before; I’m not going to belabor it. You will see the evidence of that certainly when I come back next year and we are already putting those systems in place. It just takes a while to get these systems in place and that’s why I’m not able to tell you now after just 5 months exactly where we are.
Third, we are going to work with organizations, throughout the state of Maryland, to recognize best practices, to recognize those counties and those municipalities that are making tremendous strides. So working with the Maryland Municipal League and the Maryland Association of Counties, we are going to promote, in a collaborative way, this sort of information sharing. And we are going to make greater efforts to streamline and standardize our process because there are far too many barriers to minority business access, to either municipal county or state work, and far too little collaboration. I do want to work with you to figure out how to streamline that in a way that makes sense.
Fourth, we are going to work with our congressional delegation and do our very best to try and bring a federal minority business enterprise center to Maryland. For many years the Commerce Department has left Maryland within that New York region, but without any local centers within reach to Maryland businesses. So we are going to work with our congressional delegation to do that.
Finally, in this new sort of asymmetrical warfare that is going to be with us likely for the next 100 years, Maryland is poised for growth. And you already see it happening, in the articles you read about BRAC – the base realignments that are happening in Maryland. Especially once we change Presidents, I think you’re going see an America that is really investing not only in her infrastructure, but an America that is also reinvesting in her homeland security, instead of playing the shell game. What does that mean for Maryland? It means that places like NIH, it means places like Aberdeen, it means places like Fort Detrick, it means places like NSA, and all the other three letter acronym departments that we’re not supposed to mention in public are going to see tremendous amounts of investment to deal with this new sort of warfare. Maryland’s economy always surges and moves forward in time of war, partly because of our proximity to Washington, partly because… that’s our tradition to lead when the going’s rough in our country. That’s going to happen…and we want to make sure that we take advantage of that… and what it means to grow and develop more minority businesses and women owned businesses in our state.
So that’s my 141 pages, kind of boiled down for you… You know, however many committed leaders we have like Jim Smith or Mayor Sheila Dixon or others in government, moving the ball forward on minority business development doesn’t happen unless all of you risk your talent, risk your dollars, and risk your word and trust with one another on making it happen. There are so many so called majority businesses that are doing increasingly better jobs of partnering, of reaching out, of putting forward great bids with great MBEs as part of them. You are really the ones who advance us all.
Governments are part of it, yes government’s really important, but the reason why we celebrate, and why you gave out the awards today to those folks in private industries is because you are the ones that make it happen. We are going to do everything we can to support you and we are going to do everything we can to make government a catalyst in those sorts of partnerships for greater progress and greater social justice. We do that in carrying on the legacy and the spirit of our leaders like Parren Mitchell. One that I think was articulated by Frederick Douglass who said, “we are one, our cause is one, and we must help each other if we are to succeed.”
Thank you very much.