Hutchinson's leaving fuels talk of merging GBC, 2 other groups

Downtown Partnership, Greater Baltimore Alliance are partners mentioned

October 08, 2002|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

As the head of the Baltimore region's largest public-policy organization prepares to leave for his new banking job, some local leaders are talking informally about merging his group with at least two other organizations.

Some see Donald P. Hutchinson's departure from the presidency of the Greater Baltimore Committee as providing an opportunity to at least talk about combining the GBC with the Greater Baltimore Alliance and the Downtown Partnership.

Hutchinson is leaving Nov. 1 to become president and chief executive of SunTrust Bank's Maryland division.

"I think various people who sit on overlapping boards of these organizations would love to see better coordination," said Walter D. Pinkard Jr., vice chairman of the GBA and chairman of the board of the Baltimore Community Foundation, which manages philanthropic funds.

"With the changes at GBC, there's an opportunity to step back and look at things."

Pinkard, for one, would like to see merger discussions include more than just those three agencies.

He suggested that the Presidents Round-Table, a group of 22 African-American chief executive officers, and the Associated Black Charities are groups that should have input.

"I'm hopeful we'll have a complete dialogue," he said.

Ioanna T. Morfessis, president and chief executive of the Greater Baltimore Alliance, said the economic slump could be giving the merger idea a boost.

Corporate leaders have less time to devote to outside activities as they concentrate more closely on their companies' bottom lines. And the area also has fewer company headquarters and therefore fewer corporate donors, she says.

"Are we as organized and efficient as we should be?" she asked. "These are legitimate questions that have been raised with three dominant agencies all essentially beating on the same doors.

"This has given rise to a lot of after-meeting conversations. They're informal among various business leaders who make contributions to all three and serve on their boards."

Officials at the Downtown Partnership did not return phone calls yesterday.

To Hutchinson, the very mention of a possible merger created a horrible feeling of deja vu.

"This would be awful," he said. "If anybody's talking about it, it's folks who are shortsighted and narrow-minded."

Hutchinson contends that there are other ways to get through hard economic times without a consolidation.

`With less money'

"Maybe you do it with less money," he said. "You don't have to pull organizations together. Just let it settle out."

Before coming to the Greater Baltimore Committee, Hutchinson was president of the Maryland Business Council, which had been formed two years earlier by the merger of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and the Maryland Economic Growth Associates.

That merger took about a year to accomplish, Hutchinson said.

Then, when he left that post to come to the Greater Baltimore Committee in October 1993, local leaders decided that the Maryland Business Council should revert to being the Maryland Chamber, and the economic development function disappeared.

About the same time, a group of metropolitan Baltimore executives created the Greater Baltimore Alliance, a nonprofit regional economic development agency.

"Then economic conditions worsen, and what do we start talking about?" Hutchinson asked. "Merging. We've been there, done that, as the old cliche goes."

Hutchinson predicted that if one or more of the agencies were to be absorbed in another merger, it would be the public-policy role - the work that the Greater Baltimore Committee does - that would survive.

`Right reasons'

"If we do this, we have to do this for the right reasons," Morfessis said.

"The only reason in my mind that would justify a complete overhaul [would be to keep] ... Baltimore City and the Baltimore region ... viable, healthy and competitive for people and businesses. ... "

Although no one seems to have a precise timetable in mind for any possible merger, Pinkard noted that a decision can't be delayed indefinitely.

"When windows open, they don't stay open forever," he said.

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