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Hopkins announces local 'build, hire and buy' initiative

The Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health System announced Tuesday a local "build, hire and buy" initiative they said would boost their efforts to reduce the economic divisions in Baltimore.

Officials said the "HopkinsLocal" initiative is a response to the looting, fires and protests in April, which laid bare the stark economic disparities between different parts of Baltimore. The institutions have faced criticism that their work fails to widely benefit the city around them.

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"It's clearly a critical moment in our city and this is a historic moment for our university and our health system as we strengthen and renew our commitment in Baltimore," said Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels. "This is an effort to demonstrate that we have listened to what we have been hearing."

The new program commits the two institutions to:

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•Direct to certified minority- and women-owned or disadvantaged businesses 17 percent, or about $23 million, of roughly $135 million spent each year on certain construction and design contracts in Baltimore.

The program applies to both small and large projects in an effort to increase opportunity for smaller businesses, and the hope is to increase the share over time to 20 percent, officials said.

•Hire an additional 60 people each year who live in ZIP codes with high unemployment or poverty rates for certain entry-level positions, which range from clerical staff to food service positions.

The 16 ZIP codes include 21217, which circles the Penn and North intersection that was the epicenter for violence in April; 21205, near the Johns Hopkins Hospital campus and other parts of Middle East; 21211, which includes Hampden; and 21225, which includes Cherry Hill and Brooklyn.

Of the roughly 432 people hired in Baltimore each year for those positions currently, about 26 percent, or 113, live in those neighborhoods, said Daniel Ennis, the university's senior vice president for finance and administration. The goal is to boost that percentage to about 50 percent eventually, he said.

•Spend $6 million more of their procurement dollars with local vendors. Currently, about $56 million of procurement money in Baltimore goes to local vendors, Ennis said.

The institutions said they also will strengthen recruitment and outreach and work with their contractors to implement local hiring and spending policies, penalizing those that don't comply.

Daniels said the new program came out of conversations with leaders after the riots, including Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who praised the effort.

"Economic inclusion efforts are critical to revitalizing Baltimore, especially in the wake of April's unrest," Cummings said in a statement. "Johns Hopkins is leading by example in its efforts to provide economic opportunities for Baltimore residents and businesses."

Local hiring and spending rules are important to distributing the city's economic development, said Lester Davis, a spokesman for City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who sponsored the city's 2013 local hire law.

"Hopkins, with the procurement power and employment power that the institution has, can certainly be a leader," Davis said. "I don't think anybody would be satisfied with where we are currently. I think everyone recognizes that more could be done, more should be done. This is a good step in that direction of reducing unemployment and trying to put qualified people to work."

At the end of June last year, Johns Hopkins Hospital employed more than 12,000 people and had net assets of $1.3 billion, according to tax records. The Johns Hopkins University had nearly 40,000 employees and net assets of $4.9 billion as of June 30, 2013.

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While Johns Hopkins enjoys a global reputation and is the city's single largest employer, it has been criticized sometimes for not doing enough to benefit the wider community.

Its role in the East Baltimore Development Inc. urban renewal project near the medical campus, for example, is sometimes compared to a land-grab that forced residents from homes without delivering on promises of economic development.

"Unfortunately, sometimes it takes riots or some type of unrest to make people say … what we committed to a decade ago, maybe we need to try to revisit," said Clarence M. Mitchell IV, a former state senator and current radio talk show host.

Mitchell praised the new program and said he hopes other private employers follow suit.

"It seems like a very, very comprehensive approach," he said. "Let's see if it gets contagious."

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