While elected officials in Washington talk theory, Steve Wasserman knows reality.
For 10 years, Mr. Wasserman has been running his business -- Cindarn Plastics, with annual sales of $6 million -- in Baltimore's first enterprise zone. And he believes enterprise zones, though not a salvation, would be a good foundation in a federal program.
"Unless the federal government steps in to break the cycle, the cities will be abandoned," he says.
Now 40, Mr. Wasserman, was a good candidate for moving into an enterprise zone. He wanted to keep the business in the city -- in part for personal, social reasons ("I went to school in the '60s") and in part because it's good for Cindarn.
"We probably typify the kind of business that should move into an enterprise zone," he said. "We wanted low-skill workers we could bring in and train." The factory space he found in an abandoned strip shopping center that became the Park Circle Industrial Park in Northwest Baltimore was perfect.
"You come here now, you see a flourishing business community. If you came here 10 years ago, it was a war zone," Mr. Wasserman said. "I think the main benefit [from the enterprise zone designation] was the change in the climate once the city and the state got behind it.
"From a prudent businessman's point of view, you've got to have some incentives to stay in the city. Hunt Valley looks great. It's easy to go there. Something has to help convince you to stay in the city."
With Baltimore and Annapolis offering low-cost loans, job-screening programs and the enterprise zone tax incentives, other companies came to Park Circle.
The area was cleaned up, landscaped. Neighbors no longer dumped trash in the parking lots or broke bottles on the pavement. The hundreds of workers who congregated daily at Park Circle brought new energy to the area.
Now, instead of taking his printing jobs across town, Mr. Wasserman goes across the street to the small print shop set up in an old school building.
"So there's another business that's making it," he said. "If we weren't here, he wouldn't be here."
Most of Cindarn's 65 employees live close enough to walk to work or to ride a bus. Most have worked in the factory for the past 10 years, he said, and many started at the lowest pay scales and won promotions.
"The money they make here stays in the city," he said.