In a desperate neighborhood like Middle East, where unemployment a decade ago was as high as 30 percent and drug dealers worked the corners, the lure of new jobs was a huge selling point in rebuilding the community.
When Baltimore began asking for federal funds in 2003 to tear down homes and relocate residents, city housing officials assured the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that part of a $21.2 million loan would lead to the creation of thousands of jobs in a biotech park just north of Johns Hopkins Hospital.
It was a crucial statement because job creation was required to secure the loan.
“A goal for the overall project is creation of 4,000 jobs. Phase I of the Biotech Park (875,000 SF) is projected to create 1,750 jobs,” states the application to HUD, signed by Baltimore housing commissioner Paul T. Graziano.
Since then, East Baltimore Development Inc., the nonprofit created in 2002 by the city and the Johns Hopkins University to spearhead the demolition and development, has repeatedly predicted that the entire project, totaling 88 acres, will create between 6,000 and 8,000 jobs.
But the number of jobs created so far falls far below any projections over the years.
‘Another broken promise’
As recently as July 2009, in an unsuccessful bid for more federal funds, EBDI told HUD that the project would create “6,500 permanent jobs.”
No one expected 6,500 permanent jobs to be created by now, and the leaders of The New East Baltimore project have never provided a timeline for job creation.
But nearly three years after the first biotech building opened with 278,000 square feet, there are just 422 employees working there. An EBDI official says she does not know how many of those jobs were new and how many were already part of the businesses that moved into the building.
In addition, says Cheryl Y. Washington, EBDI’s senior director of community and human services, biotech jobs that were promised for local residents are not yet available.
“We are working to meet with all the tenants to get a grasp on upcoming and future jobs,” she said.
Raymond A. Winbush, director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University, has followed the project since the beginning.
He said the lack of biotech jobs is “another broken promise” to former Middle East residents, whom he helped to organize into SMEAC, the Save Middle East Action Committee, a grassroots campaign that has since folded.
“Where are these people who were trained to do that” work?” he asked. “Are they going to be in supermarket or temp jobs now?”
‘Surpassed our goals’
Elsewhere in the project, EBDI has created jobs for 2,378 people. But 1,683 of them — 71 percent — were temporary construction jobs that averaged two months. Only 256 of those — 15 percent — went to people from East Baltimore, according to EBDI’s own statistics.
The other 695 jobs created by EBDI include 70 in security work for Broadway Services in new buildings, and a variety of permanent positions on EBDI’s staff, teachers and staff at the East Baltimore Community School and positions in health care, education, customer service, hospitality and tourism, according to Washington.
Many of these 695 jobs resulted from a joint effort of EBDI and the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. Sixty-seven percent, or 468 jobs, went to people from East Baltimore, according to data provided to The Daily Record by EBDI.
Although most of the jobs created so far have been temporary, EBDI staff members say they are pleased with the progress they are making.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which has committed $63.5 million to the overall project, also praises the project’s job creation and training efforts.
The foundation’s vice president for civic sites and initiatives, Anthony Cipollone, said the Casey staff has offered technical assistance to help create jobs for East Baltimore residents. He praised EBDI for doing “a good job with reaching out to residents.”
Although Cipollone noted that the biotech project hasn’t created jobs for neighborhood residents, “over a 1,000 people have gotten jobs” elsewhere in the community, he said.
“I think the economic inclusion piece has been a huge success story. It has surpassed our goals,” he added.
Others are not so impressed.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who grew up in the community, said he has never received answers to questions about the number of people from East Baltimore who work on EBDI’s staff.
“Half the people working there have no connections [to East Baltimore]. I wanted a balance,” said Young. “There should have been more people from East Baltimore in some of those jobs.”
EBDI’s records, said Washington, show that the nonprofit has hired 68 people from East Baltimore for its own staff — almost 32 percent out of 214 employees hired since 2003.
Arnold Jolivet, managing director of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association, said the project’s employment approach for the construction and demolition project “is not well-thought [out]; it may be somewhat marginal.”
“They are short-term jobs,” he said. “They ought to put emphasis on motivating contractors into providing long-term jobs for those residents. It’s a result of them not giving long-term thought.”
Another piece of the “economic inclusion” mission of the project is the hiring of minority and women contractors, as well as workers who are female and minority.
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, will hold a forum at Morgan State University next Tuesday to discuss the minority inclusion goals of the project and their achievement to date.
EBDI’s Economic Inclusion report in 2010 shows that of $129 million in construction-related projects, $54 million (or 42 percent) went to minority- and women-owned businesses.
Of the workers hired on those jobs, 57 percent of “employment hours” involved minorities or women, the report said.