Tuesday, April 17, 2001

City to tap resources of businesses

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Bell has contributed both money and people to help programs in the local black community, but even the telecommunications giant's top executive admits: “You have to do more.”

        That's why Bell will increase its presence this year, helping to turn Taft High School in the West End into a technology center within Cincinnati Public Schools, president Jack Cassidy said Monday.

        “The events of the last week are a tragedy,” said Mr. Cassidy, one of two dozen business leaders crowding around Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken during a Monday news briefing. “But what a greater tragedy if nothing comes out of that.”

        Companies around Cincinnati will face the same questions for months after rioting in city streets forced a state of emergency and a citywide curfew that was lifted Monday morning.

        The city's biggest corporations have pledged to help with summer jobs programs, loans or even influence to increase minority hiring.

        Monday's news conference was an unprecedented show of unity by the local business community, which now must measure up to those promises.

        If they fail, their promises will join dozens of well-in tended corporate programs that have failed to put a dent in a festering racial tension. But if the new investment works, it would be an unprecedented use of corporate power to further the city's civic development.

        “They're going to put money on the line. They've committed to do that,” said Ross Love, president of Blue Chip Broadcasting and the unofficial spokesman for the city's African-American leaders on Monday.

        “We've seen enough tangible evidence to believe there is really hope that things are going to be different this time.”

        The corporate crowd had first convened last Wednesday, driven by Mr. Love, Sheila Adams of the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati and Michael Fisher of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

        A series of meetings over the weekend culminated in Monday's appearances for the normally low-profile executives.

        The group crowding behind Mr. Luken included Procter & Gamble Co. chairman John Pepper, Western-Southern Life Insurance president John Barrett, Convergys Corp. chairman Jim Orr, Milacron Inc. chairman Dan Meyer and Mr. Cassidy. Enquirer publisher Harry Whipple also was part of the business contingent.

        “If you look at the numbers regarding African-American employment and education, we are committing ourselves to making progress in the objective numbers,” Mr. Luken said.

        Mr. Cassidy said Cincinnati Bell's efforts at Taft High are an extension of previous programs, and an example of how companies have to contribute both money and volunteer talent.

        The program will start in September, with current Taft students having the first opportunity to get into the information-technology curriculum, a Cincinnati Public Schools spokeswoman said.

        Cincinnati Bell is considering wiring students' homes with free digital lines and offering internships.

        City Manager John Shirey said his biggest concern was companies leaving the city, or canceling plans to relocate here.

        “I need to see the corporate leaders of this community contacting other businesses and saying, "Don't move out of Cincinnati,'” he said.

        City Councilman Phil Heimlich said local companies need to contribute to renovation efforts for the businesses that were either vandalized or looted.


Race commission will take lead in recovery
Previous race reports ignored
Report promised soon on beanbag firings at crowd
Police chief disarms critics
Citizens police review panel feels excluded
Grand jury may get case in a week
Heimlich, Luken at odds over handling of riots
Store owners hope for aid from city, feds
- City to tap resources of businesses
Reds not expecting problems
End of curfew brings relief
Mayor Luken's views
PULFER: Why didn't we see this coming?
Black youths speak of change
Week of spring break taught lessons