With the precision of a military blitz, Baltimore is going after one of the empowerment zones the Clinton administration will select later this year. The stakes are high. Only six urban zones will be chosen. Each designation will net the host city a $100 million windfall of social service block grants.
Coordinating the city's bidding is Michael Seipp, vice president of Baltimore Development Corp., who has assembled a staff of 11 full-time employees and seven part-timers in the Brokerage building. Their mission is to come up with a proposal by June 30 that is "so good it cannot be turned down on merit," Mr. Seipp explained.
Meanwhile, a major community organizing effort is going on. Some 300 people recently attended a full-day workshop on the project. By the time the proposal is submitted, an estimated 600 Baltimoreans will have been involved in its development.
The zone Baltimore is proposing to the Clinton administration is not a contiguous area but consists of three separate pockets of poverty. One is in West Baltimore and runs from Gwynns Falls Parkway through Sandtown-Winchester, Poppleton and Pigtown to Morrell Park. Another one is the old Fairfield industrial area near Curtis Bay.
The third one is in East Baltimore and runs from Federal Street through the Broadway corridor to the harbor. It includes the Johns Hopkins Hospital, the city's major private employer. About 73,000 people live in the three areas.
Under federal legislation, employers in the zone get a 20 percent wage credit for the first $15,000 of wages paid to each employee who is a zone resident. Participating employers may also qualify for accelerated depreciation of their business property and tax-exempt financing.
The winners of the sweepstake will each receive $100 million to be used for such purposes as addiction treatment, job training, after-school programs, housing and transportation.
The selection of the zones is certain to be a politically charged process. The guidelines were written in a way that such cities as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago seem to have a lock on a designation. In fact, only one of the six designations seems not to be spoken for.
The politics of empowerment-zone selections may be beyond Baltimore's control, but the city is doing the right thing in aggressively seeking a designation. Regardless of the outcome, the whole community will benefit from the tight focusing and target-setting that the planning entails.