Business, political leaders celebrate small-business program in Baltimore

Some of the country’s most successful businessmen joined local politicians in Baltimore on Wednesday to talk about increasing business and improving the city at two separate events.

A graduation ceremony for the first 59 Baltimore business owners to complete Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program drew Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, billionaire Warren Buffett and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Center Stage in Mount Vernon. Goldman Sachs and Bloomberg Philanthropies also announced a $10 million investment Wednesday to bring the small business program to Baltimore.

“I’ve always been very, very, very optimistic about America,” Buffett said. “When you meet the superstars I met in the last few hours, you just can’t help being that way.”

The businessman and investor is among the chairs of 10,000 Small Businesses, along with Blankfein and Bloomberg. The former mayor’s charitable giving is managed by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

“If you have a dream, you gotta just go for it,” Bloomberg told graduates of the program.

Bloomberg also encouraged the small-business owners on the stage behind him to never be content, keep improving their product and hire wisely.

“My test is always ‘are they smarter than me?’ ” Bloomberg said. “Those are the people I want to have come in.”

Blankfein called on the group of business owners to be resilient, as obstacles are often tougher for small businesses to overcome.

“What distinguishes small-business people around the country, in Baltimore and certainly the people behind me, is they are relentless in achieving their goals to maximize the individual and collective potential,” Blankfein said.

The event was also attended by Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. They welcomed the new small-business program as an opportunity to bolster local businesses and create more jobs.

“It’s small-business creators like these that are really driving our economic resurgence here in Maryland,” said Hogan, a Republican.

The 10,000 Small Businesses program offers training and loans to small business owners. The program has worked with more than 6,300 small businesses at 14 sites across the country since launching in 2010.

The Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University and the Community College of Baltimore County will oversee the education component, which was designed by Babson College.

Also on Wednesday, experts from around the country came to town to discuss ideas for progress in a wide array of areas.

At “CityLab Baltimore,” which took place at the Parkway Theatre on North Avenue, leaders from New York, Boston, Rhode Island, Albany, N.Y., New Orleans and Detroit discussed ideas to address blight and drug abuse, among other problems.

Pugh, a Democrat, emphasized the need to rebrand Baltimore by rehabbing vacant homes and reducing violence crime. Negative influences prevent economic and population growth, she said.

“For me, violence reduction is very important because that's the narrative that we have to change," Pugh said.

Out-of-town speakers included Bloomberg; Nicole Alexander Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health; Michael Botticelli, director of the Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine at Boston Medical Center; Judy Reese Morse, deputy mayor for Citywide Initiatives City of New Orleans; Maurice Cox, planning director of Detroit; and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.

Bloomberg said Pugh recently attended a management training session his organization held at Harvard.

“I’ve always believed that private organizations can help tackle some of the biggest challenges we have,” he said. “Mayors can help cut red tape. They can help improve access to capital. … There’s a natural connection between business and government.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

sarah.gantz@baltsun.com

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