Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker was honored by the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 18 for his efforts to support and strengthen Hispanic and Latino-owned businesses in the community.
Baker, who is running for governor, was named "Outstanding Elected Official of the Year" as a part of the chamber's fifth annual Business Excellence Awards. The nominated officials included U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) and Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh.
"I was very honored — it is one of the highlight awards I've gotten as county executive," Baker said. "It recognizes the growth of this administration and how important the diversity in Prince George's County is."
Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Chairman Jorge Castillo said the chamber was established 32 years ago to ensure the establishment, growth and prosperity of Hispanic and Latino-owned businesses.
In deciding the Elected Official of the Year award, the chamber looked at the specific ways local officials fostered growth for Hispanic and Latino people, as well as underrepresented minorities in their communities, Castillo said. Nominations were open to the public, and the winner was selected by a chamber committee.
"His desire to embrace diversity and improve the lives of minorities comes from inside — it's not just a box that he's checking for political reasons," Castillo said. "What we've seen with Baker, in particular, is a true commitment to the Hispanic community," he added.
Castillo said Baker's ability to meet the growing needs of Hispanic residents in the county was among the reasons he won the award. Castillo commended Baker's Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative — which was started in 2012 to allocate government resources to high-need areas in the county — as another instance the county executive showed his dedication to improving the lives of Hispanic people. He also lauded Baker's appointment of his first Latino Liaison, Dinora Hernandez, in 2013.
"I've talked and had conversations with many executives and many elected officials, and what you can tell with Rushern is he's legit," Castillo said. "He's just an honest man — which is hard for anybody to say about a politician — but he is."
The Hispanic population in Prince George's County has boomed over the years. The county had about 57,000 Hispanic residents in 2000, according to Maryland census data. That number grew to about 129,000 in 2010 — a 126 percent increase.
Moreover, more than 3,000 Hispanic-owned businesses were created in the county between 2007 and 2012, which was second in growth only to Montgomery County among Maryland jurisdictions.
Baker's current Latino Liaison, Daisy Rickert, said she and Baker have set out to bolster the county's relationship with Hispanic and Latino-owned businesses. Last year, the Prince George's County Economic Development Corporation, which provides services for all businesses in the county, hired its first-ever Latino business liaison. The corporation offers networking opportunities, advice and funding for some county businesses, as well as training and financing to small, minority and women-owned businesses, according to its website.
"This is the first time we've had a person engaging and increasing those relations with our Latino business community," Rickert said. "We are increasing our partnerships and cultivating these business relationships because at the end of the day this is what it's about — creating opportunities for all of our residents."
Baker said that in the past, Hispanic and Latino-owned businesses operated on their own rather than working with the county. For these businesses to continue to grow, he said, the county needs to do a better job informing them about what types of opportunities are available.
He mentioned the proposed Purple Line as a long-term development project in which he'd like to see local minority businesses get involved.