Baltimore must work hard to regain corporate glory

SUNDAY OUTLOOK

April 10, 1994|By Ted Shelsby

Ten years ago a study by Moran, Stahl and Boyer, a national business site-selection company, said Baltimore was well positioned to attract corporate headquarters. At about the same time, Mayor William Donald Schaefer established the Downtown Office Market Task Force to lure new tenants -- particularly the corporate or regional headquarters of national companies.

Since then, however, a bevy of top headquarters have disappeared from the city. And another one will fall with the completion of New Jersey-based First Fidelity Bancorp.'s acquisition of Baltimore Bancorp, the parent of the Bank of Baltimore.

What has caused this reversal of fortunes and can Baltimore regroup as a center for corporate ownership?

Donald P. Hutchinson

President,

Greater Baltimore Committee

"Baltimore was hurt by a nationwide restructuring of the financial services industry. Monumental Life, Sun Life, Maryland Casualty, Maryland National Bank and First National Bank were bought by companies based outside the state.

"Baltimore can bounce back, but the city has a lot of work to do. The public education system has been a great concern for more than a decade. Fortunately, this problem is balanced by a good private school system.

"Crime is another area that needs attention. Guns in the hand of teen-agers scare the heck out of people and this has had a serious impact on the city.

"Part of the dilemma is that there is more local competition. Communities like Owings Mills and the area around the airport are strong competitors. We need to convince the mayor and executives of surrounding counties that they should be working together in a regional strategy to attract new business.

"Ten years ago there were informal talks between these people. That's not happening in the same manner anymore.

"An opportunity could come from Bell Atlantic's plans to try to place Baltimore and the rest of the state at the forefront in telecommunications. If that happens it could make Baltimore a lot more attractive."

Louis Galambos

Professor of history, specializing in American business, The Johns Hopkins University

"Since about 1975, business has been going through a rapi restructuring. The shift in corporate headquarters is part of that. It was accelerated when regulations were removed in the banking and trucking industries.

"Baltimore was losing out during this period because of the economic affects of this restructuring.

"Baltimore was a less favorable environment for business than other cities. Companies like to locate their headquarters in cities and other cities offered more favorable situations.

"In terms of its tax policy and its attitude toward business, Baltimore doesn't rank very high.

"It seems that the city is well positioned to attract the headquarters of small biotechnology companies because of the university research here. But I don't see any advantages for the big, multinational companies to locate in Baltimore.

"To attract corporate headquarters, the state needs to offer special incentives. I don't think we have any. We also need to do a better job of selling the state. The city's public school system still seems to be a problem."

Carroll D. Nordhoff

Executive vice president,

McCormick McCormick & Co.

"When you look at what has happened in terms of the loss of corporate headquarters you have to look at each one on an individual basis. It is not fair to try to describe what happened in one sweeping statement. The best way for a company to retain its independence is through a strong financial performance. Some of the local banks got into trouble and were right for a takeover.

"The trend can be reversed, but it won't be easy. Maryland's many economic development efforts are not coordinated.

"The quality of life in Maryland is good, but its an expensive place to live. We have people who join McCormick and live in Pennsylvania because it has affordable housing.

"Baltimore needs to improve its public education system and reform its tax structure. Crime is another problem that needs to be addressed."

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