Baltimore area must push job growth, study finds

Despite grants, needs for housing, education and immigration unmet

October 26, 2002|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore region has attracted more research grants than intellectual capitals such as Boston but failed to use those dollars to stimulate job growth in the city and surrounding counties, a new study has found.

The study, done by researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County at the behest of the Morris Goldseker Foundation, paints a mixed picture of quality of life in Central Maryland compared with that of seven other Eastern metropolitan areas.

In key economic areas, Baltimore was found wanting.

Royce Hanson, a UMBC professor who led a team of researchers in producing the report, said it shows that the region hasn't provided enough education and training to feed the growing sectors of its economy.

"The strategic problem for areas like the Baltimore region is to figure out where the mainstream of the economy is headed ... and to figure out how to get more people into the mainstream," he said.

The report compares the Baltimore region - defined as the city and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties - against the regional areas of Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Washington.

Among its findings:

The Baltimore region ranked first among the group in attracting more than $1 billion in research grants to institutions such as the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore in 2000 - outdistancing even Cambridge, home of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, outside Boston. But low rankings in personal income and job growth show Baltimore isn't taking advantage of that strength, the report says.

Baltimore ranks highly in its number of cultural amenities and parklands. Among the regions surveyed, only Washington had more theaters in relation to its population.

Only one in 14 workers in the region was employed in manufacturing by 1996, compared with one in five 30 years ago. Meanwhile, consulting, accounting and other "business services" are fast-growing occupations, along with jobs related to health.

The region is attracting fewer immigrants than others, and those settling here tend to live outside the city - a trend that must be reversed if Baltimore is to turn around its population decline, experts say.

The region's stock of affordable housing is on the rise - but shelter is nonetheless expensive by comparison. Of the eight areas studied, only Atlanta, Philadelphia and Boston had less affordable housing for a family of median income.

A Goldseker analysis of the data calls its overall picture "fair at best" and says that "to achieve regional success, we must produce substantially better results in the years ahead."

Other reports have taken stock of the region before. In 2000, the Greater Baltimore Committee updated an earlier study that compared Baltimore with 19 other metropolitan areas, finding that Baltimore had improved its per capita income and had high numbers of doctors per capita and relatively little vacant office space.

Goldseker President Timothy D. Armbruster said the foundation, which paid $150,000 for the report, wanted to examine a broad set of statistics that would reflect the area's overall "quality of life" and provide a baseline for improvement. The foundation also wanted direction for its grant-making, which has focused on community development and is increasingly geared to issues that extend beyond the boundaries of the city.

"It's a way of keeping an important concept - that regions compete against one another - in the front of the thinking of opinion leaders," he said.

Experts offered varying prescriptions for how to tackle the issues in the report.

Anirban Basu, director of applied economics at RESI, Towson University's consulting arm, said the report's employment growth statistics hid a bubble of prosperity at the end of the last decade that bodes well.

"If one looks at the very final years of the 1990s, they will see the emergence of a new Baltimore," Basu said. "My sense is that, looking forward, that that period of the late 1990s tells us more about the future of the Baltimore area than the preceding 20 years."

Basu said that a closed "corporate culture" at Hopkins had for years kept more jobs from growing out of research dollars but that projects such as a biotechnology park planned for East Baltimore - in which Hopkins is participating - show that that culture is changing.

Paul Farragut, executive director of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, said the biotech park should eventually take advantage of the area's research prowess. "But largely, the money stays within the institutions," he said.

Spreading it into the larger community is an effort under way with the biotech park and other projects, said Donald C. Fry, incoming president of the Greater Baltimore Committee. "Basically, what we need to do is transform Baltimore's economy to focus on biotechnology and biotech-related fields," he said.

David Rusk, whose 1995 book, Baltimore Unbound, advocated moving poor blacks to the suburbs to improve the city's prospects, says the report shows the state should enact a law requiring moderate- and low-income housing to be included in every new residential development. That, he said, would bring workers closer to entry-level jobs and open up more housing in Baltimore for gentrification.

The city has the least affordable housing in the area, according to the report; 41 percent of renters and 26 percent of homeowners there pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Rusk also said the region must do more to attract immigrants if the city is to regain population. "There's sort of a simple formula for measuring a central city's population trend," he said. "You either annex more land, or you acquire more immigrants, or you lose."

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