Starbucks teams with city to address community problems

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wants to meet at Starbucks for coffee and talk

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wants to meet over coffee at Starbucks to talk about youth employment, and she's inviting Baltimore residents, business people and community leaders to stop in.

Baltimore is one of five U.S. cities teaming with Starbucks to host town hall-style gatherings at neighborhood coffee shops in the hope of hashing out solutions to community problems. Baltimore's focus, through six sessions through the next year, will be on connecting more young people to jobs, Rawlings-Blake said Monday.

There are nearly 16,000 youths and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 in Baltimore who are not in school or working, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Aspen Institute. About 30 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds and about 68 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds are employed in Maryland, according to the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"The goals are to use this unique opportunity to build relationships to help expand opportunities," Rawlings-Blake said. "One of the things we're looking to do is find new, innovative ways to meet with people and to create an opportunity to find solutions and to collaborate. Starbucks is a place where collaborations happen all day, every day."

The first meeting is set for 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Southside Marketplace Starbucks on Fort Avenue.

"Solutions City," a partnership between the Seattle-based coffee giant and mayors in Baltimore, Sacramento, Calif., Phoenix, Orlando, Fla., and Columbus, Ohio, is aimed at bringing people together to tackle employment, access to education and support for veterans — issues Starbucks says are in sync with its corporate values. Starbucks and the mayors launched the program at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in June.

Starbucks says the program is a natural fit because customers already view the chain as a gathering spot to meet and talk about school and community issues.

"Solutions City helps put a formal framework and tangible goals around what's already occurring," Blair Taylor, executive vice president and chief community officer for Starbucks, said in a statement. The initiative "uses Starbucks stores as gathering places for mayors and citizens to deliberately discuss issues and drive toward the best local solutions."

In Baltimore, the meetings will be geared toward bridging the gap between unemployed young adults and employer demand, officials said. They said they will promote the benefits of hiring youths to area employers, with the aim of increasing the number that hire young people for summer jobs and year-round positions.

Early work experience is a strong predictor of future earnings and can increase earnings over a lifetime by as much as 12 percent, according to researchers at Northeastern University.

Each person who is out of school and out of work at age 16 ends up costing taxpayers an average of $258,040 over a lifetime, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Total taxpayer burden for all young people ages 16 to 24 who are neither going to school nor working amounts to $1.56 trillion, the foundation says.

Representatives from the Greater Baltimore Committee, the mayor's Hire One Youth program and the mayor's Office of Employment Development are expected to attend Tuesday's town hall. About 40 business leaders and community members have been invited.

Rawlings-Blake said she hopes to attract employers with a track record of hiring youth through city programs and also potential new employers.

"It's about relationship-building and giving the employers we'd like to work with young people an opportunity to build relationships with businesses that have had experience" with such hiring, she said. "This is developing the next generation of the workforce."

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, president of the Conference of Mayors, said the Starbucks initiative would allow communities to "take ownership of local problems, spark a spirit of bottom-up reform, and act."

The other four cities have selected other challenges as a focus.

Rawlings-Blake and the other mayors plan to evaluate solutions raised during the town hall series and possibly help Starbucks expand the program to stores nationwide.

Sessions already have been held in Sacramento, Columbus and Phoenix. Orlando plans to launch its series early next year.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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