Rouse may manage marine center work Area leaders say obstacles to GBC's vision remain

May 25, 1991|By Blair S. Walker Reporter Martin Evans of The Sun's Metro staff contributed to this article.

Some of Baltimore's movers and shakers are pushing a vision of a regional economy anchored by life-sciences industries, but business people and bureaucrats agree it won't be achieved unless both the public and private sectors rally behind that goal.

A random sampling of business and political leaders indicates that they view that goal, articulated this week by the Greater Baltimore Committee, as logical.

They said a life sciences economy is achievable but pragmatically noted that significant obstacles must first be overcome.

"Generally, I'm very positive about the prospect -- in fact, we have to be -- because the alternative, or lack of alternative, could be grim," said Marcellus W. Alexander, vice president and general manager of WJZ-TV.

"The GBC has researched and thought through this vision, and it appears to be a direction consistent with where the Baltimore region is going.

"There are hurdles -- it's not a panacea," Mr. Alexander added. "But clearly it's a vision that is more than a pipe dream."

The GBC issued a report Thursday that envisioned biotech companies, disease-related research, health facilities and pharmaceuticals firms as providing thousands of high-paying jobs for city residents in the near future.

"Our board of directors has really said that the vision will literally drive everything that we do," GBC Deputy Director Tom Chmura said, adding that the group's economic development program from now on will be primarily focused on making that vision a reality.

The president of the Baltimore Economic Development Corp., David M. Gillece, said that it is possible for the region's economy to be propelled by science-related industries, but he acknowledged that the city's besieged school system and widespread poverty are stumbling blocks.

Mr. Gillece said it remains to be seen how hard the business community will push to eliminate those obstacles.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said that for the idea to be successful, emphasis would have to be placed on translating high-tech discoveries into production-line items that could be manufactured by city residents. "The key to the solid employment of city residents in that scenario has to do with our ability to translate what we invent into what Baltimore makes for the marketplace," Mrs. Clarke said.

The head of a Baltimore County biotech firm, Dr. Santo L. Grillo, said that "the potential is there" for this area to become a major life sciences center.

"My view is that it's a good idea," said Dr. Grillo, president of Biotrax Inc. "It's plausible that it could work. It's not a can't-miss." He said the region needed "a properly trained work force" and better opportunities for developing high-tech manufacturing.

"That's easier said than done," he said, "because one of the big obstacles to developing manufacturing is dollars."

The top executive of a Baltimore County firm that designs and supplies air pollution control systems, Environment Elements Corp., also endorsed the GBC's goal for the area's economic future.

"I think that it's not the exclusive horse to which we ought to hitch our future," said F. Bradford Smith, "but it may be the strong one in the team."

He added that "the absolutely critical first step" is to improve "all of those things by which the performance of the Baltimore City school system can be measured."

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