Donald Fry: Community spirit: it’s alive and well in Baltimore’s business sector

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By Donald C. Fry

Businesses are traditionally measured by profitability, growth of a company, the number of its employees, and its economic impact to the state, region or city.

But last Monday, Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake personally thanked a dozen companies in the city for exceptional commitments to a different metric: performing selfless acts of community service.

Rawlings-Blake presented the firms with 2012 Mayor’s Business Recognition Awards for going above and beyond their normal business operations to contribute time and resources to civic projects ranging from feeding and caring for city families facing poverty and homelessness to offering free job training and apprentice programs.

“Maintaining your commitment to service during difficult economic times can be a challenge. But the winners behind me did it anyway. And for that, I’m extremely grateful,” the mayor told a crowd of 400 business executives who attended awards ceremonies at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore. The annual awards are presented by the Mayor’s Office, the Greater Baltimore Committee, and the Baltimore Development Corporation.

She thanked winners for their contributions to the community and “for standing up and committing to do more, especially during really tough times.”

This year’s awards went to large companies such as Comcast – which contributed $770,000 to multiple community organizations and whose employees engaged in thousands of hours of volunteer service – and to smaller businesses such as food distributor EMD Sales, Inc. where management and employees acquired food, provided facilities and staffed a “Bags of Love” initiative to feed families in need.

Comcast is dedicated not only to technology innovation, but “we’re dedicated to giving back to the communities we serve,” said Comcast Regional Senior Vice President Tom Coughlin.

“It is extremely important for any company here in the Baltimore market to work hard, work together, and put forward your best effort for your community,” said Elda Devarie, president & CEO of EMD Sales. ”It is an opportunity to pay forward.”

Honorees included BB&T, where 450 employees were involved in “Spring Swing” sponsorship and fundraising activities that raised more than $100,000 this year – and a cumulative total of $735,000 since 2008 – to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s patient care, research and community programs.

Then there’s CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield where, during the last three years, its Mother and Child Health Initiative has donated $3 million to support "B'more for Healthy Babies" a strategy to reduce infant deaths in 12 city neighborhoods that has benefitted more than 22,000 men and women.

At Domino Sugar’s Locust Point refinery, employees have engaged in year-round volunteer activities for organizations including Our Daily Bread and Share Our Strength, which are dedicated to fighting hunger. Employees have also volunteered for initiatives to restore rivers and the harbor and to benefit the local recreation center, IT career development for inner-city youth, the Baltimore Museum of Industry, and the city’s Youth Works summer jobs program.

“Community Service is a core belief at the Baltimore refinery and has been for decades,” said Stuart FitzGibbon, manager of Domino’s Baltimore plant.

Also honored with 2012 Mayor’s Business Recognition Awards:

Ballard Spahr LLP, for its volunteerism in cleaning up and improving the Reservoir Hill community, and for its pro bono legal services to support a wide range of initiatives, including a donation of more than 530 hours to Star-Spangled 200, Inc. and providing legal help to get approvals to locate a fresh local-foods grocery store in East Baltimore.

The Brick Companies, for its year-round employee volunteer support of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Baltimore that includes purchasing food and supplies, cooking breakfast for families of patients the first Wednesday of every month and participating in the annual Red Shoe Shuffle.

KPMG LLP, for providing core funding and working with an organization of financial information employees to launch "Project Homeless Connect," an event that provided free and immediate services, including housing, haircuts, health screenings and food for more than 1,000 homeless recipients.

M.C. Dean, for providing greater access to job training opportunities for Baltimore residents through the construction of a state-of-the-art apprentice and training facility in South Baltimore, and for conducting a pre-electrical apprenticeship program for residents of East Baltimore.

McGladrey LLP, for creating a Community Outreach Committee for corporate giving and volunteering, and for offering employees time during business hours to participate in firm-sponsored service and fundraising activities ranging from raffles to “change for charity” and “jeans days” for five community-service organizations.

SunTrust Bank, for its major investments in POWER House, a Living Classroom community center offering programs and services for more than 1,300 residents in the Perkins housing development. SunTrust funds a financial education center there and provides holiday gifts for 60 families in the center’s after-school program.

Wells Fargo, where more than 70 Baltimore employee volunteers renovated Loving Arms, Inc., a center in Northwest Baltimore City that provides education, support services, mentoring and shelter for homeless and runaway children; and for developing a Bankers Job Fair in support of the city’s Hire One Youth campaign.

These award recipients are representative of thousands of businesses in the city and in our region that make giving back to the community a key part of their business models.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake noted that it is precisely this business-sector dedication to community service that will play a key role in the city’s post-recession rebound. “That is how we will grow Baltimore,” she said.

The spirit of giving is clearly alive and well in Baltimore City’s business community. But this annual recognition reminds us that private-sector commitment to community is a major element, and benefit, of economic development and business growth everywhere.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.
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Donald C. Fry has been the president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), the central Maryland region's most prominent organization of business and civic leaders, since November 2002.

Under Don’s leadership, the GBC is recognized as a knowledgeable and highly credible business voice in the Baltimore region, Annapolis and Washington, D.C. on policy issues and competitive challenges facing Maryland. Its mission is to apply private-sector leadership to strengthening the business climate and quality of life in the region and state.

Fry served as GBC executive vice president from 1999 to 2002. From 1980 to 1999 Fry was engaged in a private law practice in Harford County. During this time he also served in the Maryland General Assembly. He is one of only a handful of legislators to have served on each of the major budget committees of the General Assembly.

Serving in the Senate of Maryland from 1997 to 1998, Fry was a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. As a member of the House of Delegates from 1991 to 1997 Fry served on the Ways and Means Committee and on the Appropriations Committee.

Fry is a 1979 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law. He earned a B.S. in political science from Frostburg State College.