GBC’s Fry: Minority Business Development

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

In the Baltimore region, there is a solid economic case for strengthening the region’s minority business sector. Our region has the capacity for 18,000 more minority and women-owned businesses, according to a 2004 report commissioned by the Greater Baltimore Committee.

Of the $5 billion in added revenue that such a minority business expansion would generate, it’s estimated that almost $2 billion would accrue to majority-businesses, making it a boon to all businesses.

This region has many successful minority firms. And there are numerous government and noteworthy corporate efforts to create business opportunities for minority-owned firms. Yet anecdotal reports from our region’s business front lines suggest a lingering sluggishness in the private-sector when it comes to minority business development.

Characteristics of this sluggishness include business owners and managers hesitating to seek out minority suppliers and partners, limiting procurement from minority-owned sources, showing reluctance to incorporate minority business development goals into business plans, and diverting prospective vendors to understaffed “supplier diversity” departments.

Common attitudes include rationalizing that hiring minority employees is an acceptable alternative to pursuing minority suppliers and partners, and considering the cultivation of minority suppliers as a social responsibility rather than a business opportunity.

On the other hand, there is evidence that CEO-driven minority business development can work well. In 2004 the presidents of three of our region’s largest hospital systems pledged to work together to pursue opportunities to shift, where feasible, purchasing activities from large national vendors to local, minority-owned suppliers. And, they agreed to track their progress. In one year, the hospitals increased their purchases from minority vendors by a combined 13 percent. They also gained savings and efficiency in the process.

Admittedly, that’s just one example. But it leads me one compelling conclusion. To expand the minority business sector to its full potential in the Baltimore region, it is critically important for CEOs to actively embrace and, within their businesses, promote minority business development for exactly what it is – an opportunity, not an obligation.

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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