Sean Smeeton had few expectations when he agreed to meet with Johns Hopkins representatives in August 2015. And he certainly didn't anticipate that the encounter would land his Hampden-based ice cream company its biggest customer.
But Smeeton got lucky. The invitation extended to Taharka Bros. came as Baltimore's 2015 riots moved leaders at the Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health System to launch a new local hiring and contracting program, aiming to give their economic might more of an impact in the city.
One year in, the institutions say they are matching or exceeding their goals.
Hopkins leaders said Thursday they steered more than $55 million in construction spending to disadvantaged or minority- or woman-owned firms, and made more than 300 hires from disadvantaged Baltimore neighborhoods for certain entry-level positions in the 2016 fiscal year.
The institutions have also increased spending with local suppliers, like Taharka, by about $4.9 million.
The "HopkinsLocal" program builds on smaller-scale efforts that were previously in place. Ronald J. Daniels, president of the university, said he is pleased with the progress.
"The significance of the program was that the university and health system were speaking with one voice," he said.
The Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health System are among the biggest employers in Baltimore. The university alone had more than 40,000 workers and reported more than $5.8 billion in revenue as of June 2015, according to tax documents.
In 2015, with the city still reeling from the riots and an ensuing spike in crime, the institutions pledged to make 40 percent of new hires for certain positions from targeted neighborhoods, including Cherry Hill, Penn North, and blocks near the medical campus in East Baltimore, and to spend 17 percent of construction dollars with disadvantaged or minority- or woman-owned firms, eventually increasing to 20 percent. They also said they would increase local procurement by $6 million over three years.
"It's our belief that there is a lot of talent in the city, and the hope is that ... it will just become easier for us to meet and exceed these targets," he said.
The $130,000 Hopkins has spent on ice cream has evened out Taharka Bros.' revenue, which used to slump outside the summer months, Smeeton said. The firm now keeps about 10 workers on year-round, and has been able to provide raises and invest in new equipment.
He's now looking to expand its college accounts.
"It basically went from a company that was just in survival mode to one that's more in growth mode," Smeeton said.
Clayton L. Smith Sr., 54, of Frankford, whom the health system hired in 2016, calls himself a walking commercial for Hopkins.
Smith applied for a job after getting fed up with the toll on his health and the time that his job driving a trash truck for a private company was taking. He started as a linen worker in 2016, earning about $11 an hour, and has been promoted twice.
The money he's making now is nowhere near as good as it was. (Smith said his earnings fell from nearly $85,000 to about $24,000.) But Smith said he's amazed at the support for advancement he's found. He gets time to take classes, paid for by the health system, and hopes to become a nurse.
"They make a way for you," he said. "I found a place that accepts me. ... It also offered me the opportunity to be a lot more."
Smith said he is hopeful that the ripple effects of the program will be felt throughout the city.
"It has to be having a good effect," he said.