A close look at BDC

April 11, 1995

Tired of hearing complaints about the Baltimore Development Corp., Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has assembled a nine-member group to study the future of the city's economic development arm. The panel will be working under the gun: Mr. Schmoke wants changes implemented in July, when the new fiscal year begins. Both the review and the tight deadline are reassuring. Amid a chorus of complaints, the mayor until recently steadfastly maintained BDC was doing a bang-up job.

The departure of the agency's acting head -- while its director, Honora Freeman, was on a sick leave -- finally brought things to a head. The mayor realized that BDC would be an issue in the mayoral campaign and he better take some pre-emptive action.

The mayor's way of handling the matter was to assemble a committee of people whose judgment he trusts. The Rouse Co., which has landed several plum development contracts in the city, has two representatives. Other members include several developers, including the president of Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse. Conspicuously absent are representatives of major private employers, who have been among the most vocal critics of BDC.

Although few of the nine members are disinterested observers, we believe they will tell the mayor the story he has so far chosen not to hear -- that BDC, as currently construed, is not doing a very good job and has major problems with the private sector. The same complaints are made about BDC that are made about the mayor's office -- that it is unapproachable, tardy and often uncooperative.

If an elected politician's office is perceived to have those weaknesses, it is likely to be a problem at election time. But if both the mayor's office and the city's official economic development agency are said to suffer the same shortcomings, there is no one else for businesses to turn to -- unless they want to move out of the city, which many have done.

As Maryland's economy emerges from the trauma of recession that was followed by wide-scale restructuring of companies, regional competition for jobs is getting even keener than before.

The new Baltimore County Executive, C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, seems stunned to realize how dismal his jurisdiction's long-term prospects are unless the aging population is counterbalanced with the vigor of new businesses and industry. He is embarking on a drive to simplify the red-tape involved in building and expanding in the county.

Baltimore City must increase its competitiveness as well. That's why BDC must be overhauled.

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