Some of the first indications that Baltimore was truly poised to become the place "where science comes to life" came not in the laboratories of Johns Hopkins or the high-tech incubator at Bayview but in a crowded hall at St. Elizabeth's Church near Patterson Park one night last fall. It was at the annual meeting of the Southeast Community Organization, known as SECO.
There, blacks and whites, senior citizens and students, the families of longshoremen and factory workers that comprise SECO saw the first glimmers of Baltimore's economic future. The people there that evening began to recognize a place for themselves and their neighborhood in that future.
They heard a Greater Baltimore Committee representative outline a vision to transform Baltimore into "a global life sciences community" by the turn of the century. They were told of how a tiny start-up company in their neighborhood was positioned to become a major pharmaceutical firm. They learned how a number of their own children had parlayed a community college biotech training program into good-paying jobs. And they heard plans to implement life sciences programs at two area high schools in the coming year.
Just one year ago, the GBC identified the life sciences -- health care, medical and biological research, biotechnology, biomedical and environmental technology -- as this region's best chance at a prosperous future with opportunities for success for all.
Building a new economy in the region will take a decade -- at least. It requires a perspective that goes beyond the current headlines, next quarter's earnings or the two-year term of an elected official. The GBC's commitment to the vision is for the long-term and it has challenged itself and all elements of the community -- including groups such as SECO -- to step forward and work toward this life sciences future.
To make this vision reality, GBC has harnessed the region's top-level business, government, education and civic leadership into a life sciences strategy team led by Bill Jews, GBC's vice-chairman.
In just 12 short months, an impressive array of leaders and institutions have stepped forward to champion individual life science projects throughout the region in five key areas. Highlights include:
No element of the life sciences strategy is more critical, or daunting, than the education agenda. Baltimore needs an educational "pipeline" that guides children, from kindergarten through high school, college, post-secondary and continuing education and prepares them for life sciences jobs in the 21st century.
A joint task force, assembled by the GBC and the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development (DEED), developed a regional strategy last fall to meet the urgent need of area life science firms for more qualified laboratory technicians.
In response, the Baltimore City Community College created a Life Science Institute. The institute has forged active ties with life science firms and offers the region's first two-year degree in biotechnology.
School-to-work programs -- called "tech prep" -- will begin next fall at two city high schools. A middle school science program is being piloted at Canton Middle School. Initiatives to help train area teachers to teach biotechnology will begin this summer. And, a new life science classroom building is in the design stage.
Children need to be better prepared to take advantage of the scientific opportunities being developed in this region. To help ensure that more Baltimoreans can fill these jobs, Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke last fall named a panel of top-level educators, businesspeople and scientists to look at the feasibility of a life science high school. A preliminary report is due this spring.
Following years of unproductive debate on the merger of area higher education institutions, the life sciences provided a rationale for the merger of the Baltimore and Baltimore County campuses of the University of Maryland. The proposal for a life science-oriented institution ideally fits the area's needs and economic directions. Although the idea was rejected by the legislature this year, proponents are laying the groundwork to renew the effort next year.
The entire community must "own" the life science vision if it is to become reality. In follow-up to its annual meeting last fall, SECO is organizing a neighborhood task force on the life sciences and planning several education initiatives. In addition, other community groups such as the Council for Economic and Business Opportunity, Inc. (CEBO), Morgan State University, the President's Roundtable, and Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) have begun to think how they can help their constituencies fit into the vision.