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No lack of MLK Day parade sponsors

Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade was made possible by securing sponsorships, a feat that not all of Baltimore’s parades and events have been able to do.

The parade, which was held along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, typically brings in 45,000 people, according to the Baltimore Office of Promotions and the Arts, the city agency that organizes the event. This year, the 11th annual parade was supported by New Jersey-based Forman Mills, Cricket Wireless, GMC and Verizon Wireless, among others.

But the city’s events have faced a tough year in keeping sponsorships and attendance alive.

Baltimore’s $121 million budget deficit had put the fate of the last summer’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration in jeopardy. Previously, the event was paid for by the Office of Promotions and the Arts without large private funding.

Watch an audio slideshow of the parade

Ports America Chesapeake, which had sponsored the city’s 2009-2010 New Year’s Eve fireworks display, pitched in $200,000 to make sure the city had fireworks on both the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve.

The city’s Thanksgiving Day parade has also been canceled since 2009 because of lack of interest, attendance and sponsorship.

Ports America has not yet signed to sponsor events in 2011.

Because of the holiday, officials from the Office of Promotions and the Arts and Ports America could not be reached for comment Monday.

Sponsor benefits included product sampling and exhibits rights, as well as the right to enter the parade with a float, and credit in media trades. Sponsors also received recognition on the Office of Promotions and the Arts’ website and on-site signage.

“The day has a lot of meaning for the country,” said Rita Haywood, who was working at the United Healthcare Community Plan bus during the festivities. “I think we’d like to come back here next year.”

Gail Lynn Fiedler, a teacher for a local home school group, said she brought 12 students to the parade to learn more about African-American culture.

“We’d like to come back if we can, the kids love the first-hand experience,” Fiedler said.

Linwood Brown  said he took a sick day from his job at a human resources company to attend the parade.

“I’ve been coming to this parade every year,” said Brown, who was bundled up to fight off the cold. “I used to go to the Thanksgiving parade, too, but I can’t imagine this parade getting canceled. It’s too significant for people.”

The number of U.S. companies that observed Martin Luther King Day this year is up slightly from last year, according to a survey by the Bureau of National Affairs Inc., a workplace information publisher.

It said 30 percent of companies were planning to give all or most workers a paid holiday for MLK Day. That’s up from 28 percent in 2010 and slightly lower than the 31 percent who observed the holiday in 2009.

Only 14 percent of surveyed employers made Martin Luther King Day a paid holiday in its first year of 1986, Bureau of National Affairs said.