Lessons from Five Years of Economic Inclusion and Partnership in Baltimore

Lessons from Five Years of Economic Inclusion and Partnership in Baltimore

Multiple players from across sectors must come together differently to address the socio-economic challenges and take advantage of opportunities for dramatically better results in Baltimore.

Baltimore is fortunate to have billions of dollars in active investment underway in water/sewer improvements, schools and redevelopment projects, as well as a very strong set of higher education and medical institutions (a.k.a. anchor institutions) that are the city’s largest employers. Yet, we also have systemic economic challenges, poverty and hopelessness that came to a head last April in the uprising following the death of Freddie Gray. In order for Baltimore to make strong inroads into addressing the economic challenges, we need to do a better job of leveraging our assets and investments in new ways.

In Baltimore, we know this work requires multiple players from across sectors to come together differently. Since 2011, the Baltimore Integration Partnership (BIP), a partnership of philanthropic, nonprofit, financial, anchor and public sector organizations, has been working to advance economic inclusion. Our approach offers opportunities and lessons learned that are important for Baltimore to move forward.

History and Early Wins

The BIP was launched as part of the national Living Cities Integration Initiative and was awarded grant funds and debt financing to improve the lives of low-income individuals. We started new workforce activities and expanded existing efforts in central and east Baltimore. In addition, the BIP made investments in industry based training programs like deconstruction, pre-apprenticeship construction, biotechnology, culinary arts, healthcare and other fields. Through our partner The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), which expanded its lending operations into Baltimore as part of the Integration Initiative, debt financing has supported fifteen projects, leveraging $150 million in investment. Projects include Centre TheaterNorth Calvert Green and the Chesapeake Building as well as the Hebrew Orphan’s Asylum and the Food Hub which are still pending. We set explicit expectations for borrowers, so that the funds were used to further racial equity and inclusion in our work. Borrowers of these funds worked towards local hiring and minority business contracting goals with workforce partners who provided job ready candidates. Over these first three years of work, partners and grantees provided workforce services for more than 1200 individuals, job training for over 500 and placed 800 into job opportunities in the development projects and beyond. Partners also helped move forward a range of new public policies and programs to sustain the goals of the initiative.

Barriers to Scaleable Change/Progress

While we are encouraged by the progress the BIP has made so far, we stumbled into numerous barriers:

  • Decentralization and Structural Racism Helped to Create and Reinforce our Challenges. Baltimore has suffered from population and job loss to the suburbs. This phenomenon, paired with a history of structural racism, has squarely impacted Baltimore’s African American community, separating people from opportunity, and helping concentrate and fuel ongoing cycles of poverty. In addition, the economic shift has limited the city’s tax base and undermined its ability to reinvest in itself and its residents. Through our work, we found that many residents seeking employment suffered from a limited education and were not prepared for free job training programs requiring bridge math and GED classes. These challenges are further compounded by the reality that nearly one out of five Baltimore residents do not have a high school degree and many job applicants have a criminal background that further limits their employment options. Through our work, the BIP found that employers were hesitant to commit to local hiring without strong workforce partners that could prepare residents for jobs. However, even though there are strong workforce-training programs, there are limited training slots and apprehension about adding more without jobs to go with them. And even though the initiative was creating new opportunities, there were many people looking for more help than we could provide, and few transportation options to connect the residents in need of work with job centers in the suburbs. We believe that a complementary state and regional lens to opportunity is fundamental for Baltimore to tackle these challenges at scale.
  • There are More Needs than Resources Requiring Coordination. Redevelopment projects supported by our work took longer than anticipated and some never materialized as developers struggled with deteriorating site conditions, redevelopment costs that exceeded market values, and fragmented funding streams and decision processes. City and State community development programs like the Baltimore Regional Neighborhood InitiativeCommunity LegacySustainable Communities Tax Credits and Vacants to Value provided crucial reinvestment supports. TRF, a community development financial institution, was instrumental in helping weave together funding sources while offering technical assistance to developers. To foster workforce opportunities in these projects, a range of workforce providers had to be coordinated to meet the varying needs and interests of residents and businesses. Our work has required stakeholders to apply a different lens: leveraging shared resources and seeking to build bridges to coordinate efforts and resources. Partners also have had to put individual self-acclaim and politics aside and think of the outcomes as the efforts of the whole.

The Opportunity of Anchor Institutions

The BIP also began working with area higher educational and medical institutions to advance economic inclusion through local hiring and purchasing, which in turn helps to create jobs. Our belief was that, if anchor institutions who have bottom lines can achieve inclusion, so can the private sector. We started with just two institutions in 2011 – Maryland Institute College of Art and Johns Hopkins University. Over the past two years, the initiative has focused more deliberately on this work, growing the number of anchor participants by 11 (and now with a total of 14, including three engaging in workforce) working in collaboration with the Mayor’s Baltimore City Anchor Plan.

hese anchor institutions recognized that their own future is reliant on attracting competitive students and faculty, and having healthy and safe neighborhoods. Efforts are still unfolding, but many institutions are moving forward with new strategies to support area communities like the new HopkinsLocal initiative, the University of Maryland-Baltimore’s growing community engagement strategies, and leadership by the Maryland Institute College of Art to grow the creative economy. Two new workforce initiatives have recently been launched with Center for Urban Families and Humanim driven by anchor leadership connecting residents to workforce services, training and jobs including those in the institutions. Several anchors are expanding their efforts to purchase from local and minority owned businesses to create jobs. Local hiring is being fostered not just through anchor internal positions, but also through reinvestment projects.

Challenges to Achieving Scale

Though we are seeing progress in the anchor strategies, we have also encountered challenges.

  • There are Process, Policy and System Barriers to Economic Inclusion. Research by the University of Colorado Denver finds that there are barriers to this work such as the capacity of local workers and businesses. Procurement and hiring policies avoid risk, seek efficiency and scale, and typically do not consider local businesses or applicants. State schools are not permitted to prioritize local businesses, even as new legislative programs like RISE seek to leverage the economic power of anchors. Employment opportunities are highly competitive, as often hundreds apply; putting disconnected local residents at a disadvantage. State and local minority business certification programs that could help find local businesses are duplicative, with no reciprocity. And, there is no single list of Baltimore businesses for institutions or the private sector to turn to consider for their purchasing supply chains.
  • Leadership is Needed for Economic Inclusion to Be Successful. Economic inclusion requires organizations to modify their business processes and take risks to do day-to-day work differently. For example, procurement actions designed to engage disadvantaged local businesses such as participating in outreach events, “unbundling” contracts, or setting minority or local purchasing goals may take more time and staff effort. Similarly, human resource leaders need authority to build relationships with workforce organizations that can help with outreach, screening and training. Largely, economic inclusion requires CEO buy-in. This buy-in enables other decision makers with the authority they need to take risks, prioritize their time, and build relationships with organizations that can help achieve inclusion goals.

Economic inclusion can create jobs and opportunities for Baltimore and is an approach to people and placed-based investment that can be replicated by individuals, businesses and other anchors to multiply opportunities. But making inroads into Baltimore’s deep socio-economic challenges is bigger than the individualized efforts of any one organization or government. To be efficient and effective at addressing Baltimore’s needs, we must do things differently, build partnerships, and take risks with intentional efforts to overcome our tendencies of doing what is easiest. We have assets, investments and opportunities through economic inclusion in front of us. If we don’t open up new pathways for Baltimore residents and business, who will?

The Baltimore Integration Partnership is funded by the national Living Cities Integration Initiative and generous local support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Goldseker Foundation, Associated Black Charities, The Baltimore Workforce Funders Collaborative and the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers (ABAG). ABAG acts as a backbone organization, coordinating and staffing the partnership.


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