District business representatives say they're doing practically everything they can to pull the city's jobless off the unemployment rolls.
In an interview last week, Mayor Marion Barry issued a call to the city's private employers "to be serious about who they hire," a call that is met with some curiosity by members of the business community.
A number of business leaders interviewed after Barry's statements appeared in print believe they are doing what they can to hire within the communities where their businesses or branches are located.
Most will say publicly that it is good business to hire at a store or a bank branch from the community that presumably the business is designed to serve.
"We've never made it a policy to make a conscientious effort to hire residents of anywhere for anyplace," said William Craig, vice president for personnel at Woodward and Lothrop.
"But we have tried to have a lot of recruitment in the neighborhood where the store is located," Craig said.
Craig's views mirrored the response of many business officials to Barry's call, which essentially is an effort to get employers to lift people from the unemployment rolls. This move Barry believes is vital to the city's economic health and a key to cutting the high cost of running the District government.
Barry frequently has called for a business-government partnership to cut the city's unemployment rate and particularly that of black youth, which most observers say is at least 25 percent.
"If there is a choice between a competent Maryland resident and a competent D.C. resident, hire the D.C. resident," Barry said last week.
But, in fact, personnel officers seldom face a situation precisely as Barry described. Seldom do those officers find themselves choosing betweeen job applicants with nearly identical backgrounds.
Particularly in the technical, professional or managerial categories, which make up most of the region's future job growth, most city business representatives point out that resumes do, in fact, separate those trying to fill job openings.
Another problem, business spokesmen say, is the complex District workmen's compensation law. One local construction company executive, Roger Blount of Tyroc Contruction, said he wants to hire as many District residents as he can, but that the high cost of complying with the compensation law makes it impractical.
"My industry wants some real relief," Blount said. "I would like to hire more District residents and I will to the extent I can."
Roger Conner, a spokesman for American Security Bank, said that slightly more than half of the bank's 1,300 to 1,400 employes live in the District.
Since all of the bank's branches are within the city, Conner maintained that it is important for American Security "to hire employes who live in close proximity to the business." Conner said the bank's management believes such a policy cuts tardiness and absenteeism.
Conner also reiterated the comments of several officials who said they seldom face the situation Barry cited. "Very seldom is a personnel officer confronted with a decision like that," he said.
Some business officials, who asked not to be identified, said the mayor's call is not practical and can only irritate employers, government officials and others who live in the suburbs.
On a recent WRC radio call-in show on the subject, a number in the suburbs and worked in the District said they were offended by Barry's proposal. They used that forum to criticize the city's school system and to discuss the difficulties of raising a family within the city.
But District business leaders who would speak publicly on Barry's remarks said that they applaud any city effort to cut unemployment.
Yet, as Craig of Woodward and Lothrop pointed out, the city is not the metropolitan area's only place with people out of work.
"We'll do all we can to curtail unemployment in the District," Craig said. "But we also have to help the unemployed in the suburbs."