GBC compiling report card to showcase area's assets 'State of the Region' study aims to boost competitiveness

May 07, 1998|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN STAFF

Metro Baltimore emerges as an affluent, educated, cultured region of moderate cost and high crime in a study previewed by a local business group yesterday.

The study, under preparation by the Greater Baltimore Committee, is intended to paint Baltimore's attributes as a region, not a collection of municipal pieces, and to compare the area to similar places across the country.

"We're all used to seeing these statistics for the entire state or individual counties and Baltimore City," GBC Chairman Frank P. Bramble said in remarks prepared for the group's annual meeting last night. "But we have never looked that closely at our performance as a region."

The point of the "State of the Region" report is to improve metro Baltimore's economic competitiveness -- to showcase its assets, to diagnose its weaknesses and to steer the GBC in its new push for regionalism, Bramble said.

"There is no question that metropolitan regions are emerging as the drivers of the new global economy," he said. "We need to start thinking more like a region if we are to be successful competitors. The State of the Region report is a major step in helping us do just that."

Some of the region's strengths are surprising and "counter-intuitive," said Donald P. Hutchinson, GBC president.

For example, even though it ranks high in household income, metro Baltimore's cost of living is almost the lowest among the 20 regions studied, including such reputed low-cost havens as Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Richmond, Va., and Tampa, Fla.

Only St. Louis scored lower on the cost-of-living meter, with an index of 98.1. Baltimore and Dallas were 98.2. Boston was highest, at 138.1.

Baltimore as a region also ranks highly in health care, higher education, the arts and transportation, the GBC's study found.

"Let's face it. We have the quality of life in this region to be attractive to highly educated and skilled workers," Bramble said. "We need to make sure that we have developed a diversified economy that offers a range of job opportunities."

Assisting with the study were the Institute for Policy Studies at the Johns Hopkins University and the Greater Baltimore Alliance, a sister organization of the GBC that is charged with marketing the region to business.

"We compare very well with a lot of communities" in many areas, Hutchinson said. "On the other hand, there are places where we need to do a better job."

Among them: job growth. Of the 20 regions studied, Baltimore tied with Philadelphia for last in job growth for the period from 1992 to 1996.

Both areas grew jobs by only 1.1 percent in that period, while places such as Austin, Texas; Atlanta, Tampa and Dallas increased employment by more than 4 percent.

Metro Baltimore's employment has picked up recently, however, growing by 2.2 percent in 1997 alone, about the same rate as that of the country.

Another problem area: crime. "The data on crime truly come as no surprise but nonetheless are distressing," said Bramble, who just signed on for his third consecutive year as GBC president and is also heading GBC's regionalism committee. In serious crimes per 100,000 residents, Baltimore ranked ahead of only Tampa and Atlanta.

Other regions ranked in more than 100 categories in the study include San Diego, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Portland, Ore., and Charlotte, N.C.

The complete report will be published later this year.

The GBC will convene a symposium of area leaders to review the State of the Region report and decide what steps to take next, Bramble said.

Pub Date: 5/07/98

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