CEOs pledge $4.7B to aid minority business from Baltimore to Richmond | Govt-and-politics

Dominion Energy and two dozen other large companies are pleading to invest $4.7 billion over the next five years to boost minority-owned businesses and organizations in a region that stretches from Richmond to Washington and Baltimore.

The 10-figure pledge by members of the Greater Washington Partnership, first reported on Tuesday by the Washington Business Journal, will be formally unveiled on Wednesday by Vice President Kamala Harris at Washington’s Howard University, where she earned an undergraduate degree.

Dominion CEO and President Robert Blue, a member of the partnership board of directors, said Tuesday that the Richmond-based energy giant is pledging to boost spending on minority-owned contractors and suppliers from 15% to 20% of contract spending nationwide over the next five years as its part of the initiative. Currently, the company estimates it spends about $1 billion on supplier diversity.

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“We need to make sure we are casting as broad a net as possible,” Blue said in an interview.

Blue succeeded former Dominion CEO Tom Farrell, a founding member of the partnership who died from cancer last April a day after stepping down as the company’s leader, and he shares his predecessor’s vision for the regional organization.

“This organization is founded on the principle that if we work together, from Richmond on up to Baltimore, that we can be incredibly successful as a region economically,” he said. “This demonstrates the commitment to the success of the region at all levels of the economy.”

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That means “growth that we all want to be inclusive of everyone, not just the high-flyers,” Blue said.

The effort to boost minority business ownership over the next five years comes from 25 major players across the region, including JPMorgan Chase, Howard University, Amazon, CapitalOne, and Exelon.

“The scope of this investment in this region is unparalleled and shows the deep commitment of our business community to create a more fair and inclusive economy,” said Peter L. Scher, vice chairman at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and board chair of the Greater Washington Partnership.

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The companies have committed:

  • $2.6 billion toward supplier diversity procurement spending, with a priority to spend with Black- and Latinx-owned businesses;
  • $1.5 billion in racial equity efforts to boost wealth-building opportunities in underrepresented communities, such as direct corporate investments in affordable housing and in community organizations that are leading equity initiatives;
  • $619 million in access to capital through direct investment in local community development financial Institutions and minority depository institutions.

The partnership said in a release that it projects the supplier diversity component to generate about $3.5 billion in revenue for small and medium-sized businesses over five years and create about 4,000 jobs annually.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., welcomed the commitments by members of the partnership, but he said it doesn’t substitute for a more comprehensive national initiative that he hopes President Joe Biden will undertake.

Warner said it also doesn’t absolve companies that pledged support for minority-owned businesses in the racial reckoning after the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis 22 months ago but never acted on those commitments.

“We need to both celebrate the companies for making these commitments and for those that promised but didn’t deliver, ask why not,” he said in an interview at his Senate office on Tuesday.

Warner was the principal author of a $12 billion commitment in a COVID-19 relief package in late 2020 to provide grants and equity for minority-owned businesses through community development financial institutions — including 16 in Virginia — and minority depository institutions.

“It’s still a huge problem,” he said, calling for “a much, much larger national initiative to deal with the racial wealth gap and access to capital.”

“This is one of those initiatives where I really want the administration to take a much bigger role,” Warner said.

US Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo, and Isabella C. Guzman, administrator of the Small Business Administration also are expected to attend Wednesday’s event at Howard.

Under the racial equity component, the partnership said that since January 2021 the Amazon Housing Equity Fund has committed nearly $800 million in low-rate loans and grants in its headquarters region “to create and preserve more than 4,400 affordable homes.”

“By building on what’s already working and supporting Black and Latinx-owned businesses in this region through supplier diversity efforts and strategic capital investments, we have a tremendous opportunity to build an economy that is more equitable, resilient, and prosperous for all,” said Francesca Ioffreda, the partnership’s vice president for Inclusive Growth & Talent Initiatives.

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