GBC names Donald Hutchinson as its new president

August 28, 1993|By David Conn | David Conn,Staff Writer

The Greater Baltimore Committee, the area's pre-eminent business organization, yesterday ended its four-month search for new president by naming Donald P. Hutchinson, who has spent his career in the inner circles of Baltimore's and Maryland's business and political communities.

Mr. Hutchinson, the 47-year-old president of the Maryland Business Council, will replace interim GBC President Walter Sondheim. Former President Robert Keller left in May to become president of Detroit Renaissance Inc., the Motor City's version of the GBC, after 11 years at the helm of the Baltimore organization.

The Maryland Business Council was formed in 1991 by the merger of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and Maryland Economic Growth Associates, a private-sector development group. Mr. Hutchinson headed MEGA from December 1986 until the merger.

He will assume his new post with the GBC in mid-October.

Before 1986, Mr. Hutchinson, a Democrat and resident of northeast Baltimore County, had been Baltimore County executive since 1978, a state senator for four years before that and a member of the House of Delegates from 1969 to 1974.

GBC Chairman Decatur H. Miller introduced Mr. Hutchinson at a news conference yesterday morning as "obviously a person of ** real prominence, stature and substance in this community, and a person who will bring real stature and credibility to this organization."

Mr. Hutchinson was selected from more than a dozen candidates, about evenly split between local and out-of-state contenders, according to Mr. Miller.

Mr. Hutchinson, apparently anticipating questions about what seems a "lateral move," noted that he made the same kind of shift when he left the Senate to run for county executive. "This is sort of a natural move for me, not unlike one I made back in 1978," he said.

"After you spend so much time at a statewide level," he added, "you understand that it's still the people at a local level that are doing things of such importance . . ."

Wants to improve schools

Mr. Hutchinson, whom Gov. William Donald Schaefer named in May to chair a commission on school funding, said improving the school system will remain at the top of the GBC's agenda. "There is no more critical issue in this city than the ability of the local department of education to provide good educational opportunities for its citizens," he said.

Another of the GBC's challenges is to build better ties between the various private and public players in the entire Baltimore region, a task far more difficult now than when he last held office, Mr. Hutchinson said.

"There are partisan considerations in play today that weren't around 15 years ago," he said. "There are [political] candidates who perhaps look at each other with a bit of a jaundiced eye."

Nonetheless, the GBC will continue to push the primary elements of its business and social agenda, said Mr. Miller and Mr. Hutchinson. Those include encouraging the development of the region's life sciences industry, improving the schools and attracting and retaining businesses.

"I think we need to get out of this competition, this competitive mode, and get into a cooperative mode," Mr. Hutchinson said. "The business people that come in here from the outside can't get over the county-by-county competition [for economic development]. They think Maryland ought to market itself as one entity."

"He's a person who can deal with CEOs as an equal," said Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation. "He's a suburban person, but with a demonstrated concern for the city, and for poor people. I think he's a terrific choice."

Small businesses leave

One of the problems the Greater Baltimore Committee itself faces is the loss of a host of small- to mid-sized business members. Its overall membership peaked at more than 900 about three years ago, and since has fallen to about 700, according to GBC Vice President Jeff Valentine. Most of the losses were smaller businesses who were cutting costs during the recession, he said.

But a number of companies, concerned with what they saw as the GBC's focus on its largest members and its perceived lack of attention to strictly city issues, split off earlier this year to form the Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce.

"The GBC I have always viewed as being a conglomerate of big business in the region, with less emphasis on Baltimore City," said Tuckey Ramsey, a member of the new group and president of Presenting Baltimore Inc. "I think that Don has the capacity and will be challenged to build consensus among all interested organizations striving toward the same goal," namely "improving the quality of life in Baltimore City, Mrs. Ramsey said.

"It's extremely hard to serve the needs of all your members," said Mr. Miller, who is managing partner of Piper & Marbury, one of Baltimore's largest law firms. But he said he and Mr. Sondheim would make "a concerted effort" in the next several months to poll the group's smaller members about their needs.

In the years after it was founded in the mid-1950s, the Greater Baltimore Committee was known for its clout and its ability to get big-ticket projects accomplished, such as Charles Center, the first step in Baltimore's downtown development renaissance. It has played a large role in the effort to attract an NFL team to Baltimore.

But the recession, the loss of many Baltimore-headquartered companies such as Monumental Corp. and the financial problems of some of the large ones that remained, including MNC Financial Inc. and USF&G Corp., have eroded its clout.

"I think life was a lot simpler 25 years ago," Mr. Miller said. "I do think the large businesses found it easier to get things done."

"Our problems are infinitely more difficult to solve now, and they're not the kinds of problems you solve with clout," Mr. Miller maintained.

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