Directing Baltimore's Economic Development Efforts Toward Life Sciences

May 26, 1991|By ROBERT KELLER

Great communities hoping to prosper in times of economic change need a strong sense of direction.

For years, Pittsburgh was a steel town. It is now transforming itself into a computer software center. Miami was known for tourism and citrus but is becoming an international gateway to Latin America. Singapore, once a low-wage manufacturing site, is emerging as an international center for finance and research and development. Each of these regions made strategic choices and acted to carve new roles for itself in the 21st century.

For much of this century, Baltimore was a leader in America's great mass-production economy. Its steel mills, Social Security processing center and port provided good-paying jobs to Baltimoreans. However, it is now clear that the economy that served us so well is slowing and probably in permanent decline.

In this era of fierce international competition, rapid technological change and increasing specialization, what will be Baltimore's new place in the world economy? What new economic engine will drive the creation of jobs and economic opportunities?

Over the past several months, a task force of business, labor, education, government and community leaders, organized by the Greater Baltimore Committee, worked diligently to answer these questions.

In the end, the group found Baltimore's economic future in the life sciences -- medicine, health care, biotechnology, biomedical and environmental technology, and in the numerous manufacturing and service industries which support and supply this growing life sciences sector.

Clues leading to this plan for a prosperous, inclusive future were found throughout the region.

The region's new economic engine was seen in labs and classrooms at Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University and local University of Maryland campuses, where world-class research and teaching in medicine, biotechnology, biomedical and environmental engineering takes place every day.

It was evident in biological research being conducted by the U.S. Army in Aberdeen, W.R. Grace in Columbia and Becton Dickinson in Baltimore County. The answer was obvious in the growing number of biotech firms at area business parks making the region a major center of biotechnology, including Crop Genetics in Anne Arundel County and Martek in Howard County.

Baltimore's economic future can be seen in the brain power of Dunbar High School students, working with Johns Hopkins in their partnership on health science careers. The future becomes clear in the wonder of school children from Carroll County exploring marine life at the National Aquarium, the region's top tourist attraction.

Baltimore's next economic engine was uncovered in medical journals at Waverly Press, whose medical work has helped make printing and publishing the region's fastest-growing manufacturing sector. Baltimore's life sciences future is seen in medical and science-related facilities development, which is now leading source of construction jobs, with more than $1 billion committed locally to build new hospitals and research and scientific facilities.

The region's new economic focus is evident at the Convention Center, where medical and scientific meetings represent a major source of conventions and tourism dollars. The region's future has already been launched by new divisions of area accounting and law firms developed to service high-growth companies and in the health industry investment banking group at Alex. Brown & Sons.

Clearly, the life sciences are Baltimore's strongest foothold in the future and most promising new economic engine. To capitalize on the region's strengths and advantages, the task force developed a vision of greater Baltimore as an internationally recognized, global life sciences community within the next decade.

It is a future-oriented and inclusive economy. Through a commitment to intellectual and commercial leadership in the life sciences, greater Baltimore will capitalize on its world-class scientific, medical and university resources to bring the entire community into the high wage/high skill economy of the future.

Not all, or even a majority, of new jobs will be in medical or bio-related sectors. The Baltimore region will still be home to traditional industries such as steel and distribution, as well as other knowledge-based industries, including information systems and space technology.

But in this new vision, the life sciences emerge as the major new engine for the region's economy. The life sciences will drive the creation of new medical and bio-related jobs, as well as related jobs in manufacturing, business services, construction, tourism and a host of diverse industries.

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