Schmoke's Slow Learning Curve

July 22, 1995

For a Rhodes scholar, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is a slow learner. A few years ago, he mobilized more than 200 people to create an economic action plan for Baltimore City. It then took a few more years -- and another committee -- for him to recognize that he has to assume a more active and visible cheerleading role in retaining and attracting businesses here.

"I have to do a better job," he told The Sun's editorial board the other day, pledging to visit Baltimore businesses more often and listen to their concerns.

To this we say: Hallelujah.

As a result of recommendations by his Economic Incentives Task Force and a panel that sought ways to overhaul Baltimore Development Corp., Mr. Schmoke has finally come to the realization that if Baltimore City is to thrive, the private sector has to be assured of conditions that generate a successful operation environment.

This is a major change in the mayor's thinking.

For much of his eight years, Mr. Schmoke has indicated through his words and deeds that he believed Baltimore's future prosperity was dependent on various governmental actions.

Yet any economist could tell the mayor that most jobs in this country are created by the private sector -- and small companies at that. Trying to lure governmental offices is fine but the key emphasis should be on the private sector.

A similar mind set guided the work of the city housing department for a number of years. Every new housing project was automatically assumed to need a subsidy.

The mayor now says that "downtown Baltimore cannot be just for low-income housing." It is time he realized what should have been self-evident from the beginning.

In the Sept. 12 primary, Mr. Schmoke has to defend his economic development record. It is not good. But now that he has admitted his mistakes, he should aggressively prove to Baltimore's business community that he is serious about making the city a better place for companies to thrive.

The key ingredient in any successful economic development effort is psychological. Cities either get a good or bad reputation. If there is a positive buzz about a city, corporations want to be part of the success story.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor gets kudos from far and wide, yet the city itself is often not seen as a good place for businesses. Mayor Schmoke should do his utmost to change that perception. Not through words only but through deeds. If he is serious, we are certain Baltimore's business community will welcome his overdue overtures.

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