Losing the charm

October 21, 1991

Baltimore traditionally has scored well in surveys that measure quality of life. But the city's reputation is slipping fast. Ranked fifth among Fortune magazine's top 10 cities for doing business in 1989, Baltimore ranked near the bottom in the newest survey, scheduled to appear in the business journal next month.

The reasons will come as no surprise to any city resident or official: problems in the city's school system, a high tax rate, expensive office leasing costs, lack of access to quality labor and what the journal calls the lack of a "pro-business attitude" -- a disturbing reversal of the city's image.

While not every businessperson will be influenced by Fortune's ratings, Baltimore's low rating this year will be at the very least a blow to city efforts to recruit new business. The problem remains, of course, what to do. No one disputes the areas of city life that need attention; Baltimore simply does not have the fiscal resources to bolster schools and services and to counterbalance a significant tax cut or, by itself, to ensure a quality work force.

All this has a self-defeating cyclical effect: If businesses don't move to or expand in the city because of inadequate services and high leasing costs and taxes, then the tax base shrinks and the problems deepen. And the fallout will affect the entire Baltimore region. As such, the new Fortune rating should generate fresh enthusiasm for regional cooperation -- particularly in education, job training and sharing vital services which might reduce the operating costs (read tax rates) of all participating jurisdictions. In a region whose economic fate is inexorably linked to the city's vitality, the time to move from rhetoric to reality is now.

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