GBC’s Fry: The ‘perfect partnership’

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

In 1996, Gary Harkness, vice president of Whiting Turner, a major Baltimore-based contracting firm, was in charge of building the city’s new football venue, now known as M&T Bank Stadium. That’s when he met Kevin Johnson a minority subcontractor Harkness hired to complete the stadium’s interiors.

It was the beginning of what Harkness and Johnson have since called a “perfect partnership” between Whiting Turner and Johnson’s firm, Commercial Interiors, based in Anne Arundel County.

Johnson’s company made a lasting impression on Harkness, prompting him to work with Johnson as a subcontractor on many projects over the next nine years. In 2005, Whiting Turner and Commercial Interiors formalized a partnership to pursue major construction management projects.

Last year, their partnership received a Bridging the Gap Achievement Award from the Greater Baltimore Committee for strategic alliances between majority-owned and minority-owned firms. They were honored for work on high profile projects such as Arundel Mills Mall and the Morgan State University Fine Arts Center.

When it comes to minority business development, it’s worth noting what both Harkness and Johnson say has driven their success.

Both stress mutual respect as the most important aspect of a successful partnership. Both parties bring real capacity, highly developed skills and resources to the partnership. And both are partnering for the right reason … it meets the ultimate business test – it’s profitable for both.

This underscores a basic premise of the Greater Baltimore Committee’s work, through its Bridging the Gap initiative, to nurture minority business development. We believe that government programs are very helpful, but that legacy minority business development best occurs at the ground-level of the private sector. That’s where relationships develop between majority companies, minority-owned, and women-owned companies because of opportunity, not obligation.

On November 15, the GBC’s annual Bridging the Gap Awards will again highlight successful minority and majority firms who have championed minority business development. There will be more stories like Harkness and Johnson as the private sector increasingly taps into our region’s diverse business resources.

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

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