GBA names woman CEO Morfessis chosen to retain, attract industry to region

March 01, 1997|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

Ioanna Morfessis, considered one of the top economic development leaders in the country, has been hired to head the Greater Baltimore Alliance, an economic development program that area business leaders hope will play a key role in revitalizing the area's job growth efforts.

Morfessis, described as a relentless and skilled negotiator, was chosen from a field of about 15 candidates for the job of president and chief executive officer of the alliance. She is expected to begin work May 1.

"This is an enormous coup for Baltimore," said Walter D. Pinkard, chief executive officer at Colliers Pinkard and a member of the search committee which sought to fill the post. "She's one of the best in this field in the country. When you land the benchmark, you have to feel pretty good."

As head of the alliance, Morfessis, 45, will lead efforts to coordinate economic development efforts on a regional scale and eliminate a pattern of competition between the city and nearby counties, which drained resources and confounded some prospects. It is to be funded initially through $5 million in donations which organizers hope to raise by the year 2000.

Baltimore is one of the few major cities in the country which, until now, has not had an agency that coordinates economic development by promoting regional attributes, according to industry experts.

"Baltimore is incredibly lucky to have landed her. This is a devastating loss for Phoenix," said Margaret Mullen, executive director of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, a nonprofit development agency which has worked closely with Morfessis in her current post as CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.

Phoenix leaders had been looking to Morfessis to lead an effort to find solutions to several pressing hindrances to future job expansion, namely a huge air pollution problem and a weak public transportation system, said Mullen.

Morfessis' background

Morfessis, a native of Washington, D.C., has served as president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Greater Phoenix Economic Council, a regional economic development group, since it was founded in 1985. Prior to that she worked as director of economic development in Montgomery County, where she helped launch the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center, a biotechnology industry research park.

She could not be reached for comment yesterday.

But in an interview with the Arizona Republic, Morfessis said she felt that her work creating a stable, organized approach to regional development in the Phoenix area was finished, and that she has family considerations in the Washington area she wants to attend to.

Pinkard said Morfessis turned down several overtures from the GBA, but the search committee was persistent. "We decided pretty early on that she was the one we wanted. She's been pursued by a number of other cities," he said.

Success in Arizona

Phoenix area officials credit her with helping to lead Phoenix out of a real estate market collapse after the savings and loan scandals that roiled the area's economy in the mid-1980's.

She helped revive the Phoenix region by orchestrating an effort to diversify an economy which relied heavily on tourism and related service industries for jobs.

The Greater Phoenix Economic Council says it has assisted attracting more than 135 companies to that region, resulting in the creation of about 64,000 jobs.

Among the employers Morfessis and her staff are credited with helping the Phoenix region attract recently are computer-chip-maker Intel, which chose the area in 1994 over a California site for a $1 billion manufacturing plant, and discount stockbroker Charles Schwab, which last year located a regional customer service center employing 1,900.

Mullen said Morfessis is perhaps best known for playing a key role in getting Dial Corp., makers of Dial soap, to keep its national headquarters in the Phoenix area rather than moving to St. Louis.

While the Fortune 500 company did leave downtown Phoenix, Morfessis headed an effort that included $2 million in incentives and persuaded company executives to shift to nearby Scottsdale instead.

"If it hadn't been for Ioanna and Mark DeMichele [former chief of the Arizona Public Service Co.], Dial would have left the area," said Mullen.

"She is very strong headed and persistent. She knows how to bring all the elements together -- political and economic -- to offer a package it's hard to say, 'No,' to."

Mary Junck, chairman of the Greater Baltimore Alliance and publisher of The Sun, said in a statement, "We are delighted to have someone of Ioanna's experience and caliber to lead our efforts to diversify and grow the Greater Baltimore economy."

Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a member of the search committee that screened candidates for the GBA job, said the committee favored Morfessis because she had a superior track record of retaining and attracting new industry to a large metropolitan region.

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