Metro area needs new image Greater Baltimore Alliance plans ads to attract companies


October 02, 1997|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN STAFF

The new group charged with selling metro Baltimore to the world's businesses rolled out its recent work yesterday: a map of the economic landscape, a proposed route through it and a pep talk about the destination.

Six months after hiring Arizona's Ioanna Morfessis as its boss, the Greater Baltimore Alliance presented a sobering appraisal of the region's image among business types as well as a plan to improve it.

GBA, composed of business people and government officials from Baltimore and its five satellite counties, will launch a national "just the facts" advertising campaign about metro Baltimore's business attributes.

"Greater Baltimore needs a business brand identity," as Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta do, said Sherry F. Bellamy, president of Bell Atlantic-Maryland.

The group also plans to recruit local executives to sell the region to out-of-state managers and site consultants, emphasize expanding the area's manufacturing employment and take advantage of an important real estate trade show in Baltimore next year.

"We want to work to establish very high-level networks" between local managers and their counterparts in other states, said Morfessis, who came to Baltimore after a prominent, seven-year run as head of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. "We want to be on the short list the companies look at when they're considering relocating or expanding."

To do that, GBA must supply an antidote to what Morfessis called "a residual image of the state of Maryland that is very negative" to business. The state, she said, is seen as high-tax, high-regulation, excessively pro-consumer and excessively pro-labor.

As evidence, the group presented results of interviews with business-relocation consultants and business managers from inside and outside the region.

Among the anonymous comments from site consultants:

"On a national scope there is nothing that makes Baltimore pop up on the radar screen."

"Greater Baltimore does not have sufficient qualitative differences to overcome the cost differences against Sunbelt regions."

"Community colleges do not produce the number of people in trades that companies need. There is a real disconnect here."

But the business people who know Baltimore best -- the ones who work here -- dispensed a good batch of anonymous praise, much of it contradicting conventional wisdom:

"I have high confidence in Greater Baltimore's economy. Strides in info tech, life sciences are key. These are not saviors, but we are building critical mass."

"Maryland is nothing like New Jersey's regulatory nightmare. We find the Environmental Protection Agency and Maryland Department of the Environment to be extremely cooperative."

"We find the work force to be top notch. This is not Cleveland, Pittsburgh or Detroit with a strong culture to overcome."

GBA's job is to clamp onto such perceptions, hoist them up a flagpole and turn on the spotlight.

The alliance was sprung from the Greater Baltimore Committee, a private business group whose focus is lobbying and other political action, because the previous marketing of metro Baltimore was deemed to be too piecemeal.

GBA is now supposed to sell the local business product. GBC, in existence for decades is supposed to mold it.

A presentation of GBA's intentions yesterday came with talk of regionalism, improvement, growth and prosperity. Recalling similar discussions 10 or 20 years ago that failed to achieve any success, GBA officials insisted that, this time, it's different.

The group has a nationally known executive in Morfessis, they said, and a treasury in excess of $7 million. And it has the commitment of both government and private-sector leaders, ensuring momentum and continuity when public administrations change, said Walter D. Pinkard Jr., president of Baltimore real estate firm Colliers Pinkard.

GBA gets its first big crack at a worldwide audience in May, when Baltimore will play host to the Spring World Congress of the International Development Research Council, a group of corporate real estate and site selection professionals.

Regions compete fiercely to get IDRC conferences, and Baltimore has been working on it since 1991. More than 2,000 people are expected to attend, giving local officials a chance to buttonhole important decision makers and push the region's charms.

"For those that are due to make a decision within three years" on a business location, metro Baltimore could get a close look, said James D. Fielder, deputy secretary for the state's Department of Business and Economic Development. For the rest, "it's about ++ long-term relationship building."

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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