After years of jockeying for position, the region's three top business development and advocacy groups have agreed on a plan to marshal their efforts in a unified push to bolster Baltimore's economy.
The Greater Baltimore Alliance, Greater Baltimore Committee and Downtown Partnership said the new initiative was needed to clarify their frequently misunderstood missions and win broad support at a time when the region's economy is under pressure.
"When your client is confused about what's being delivered, you have to listen," said Michele L. Whelley, president of the Downtown Partnership. "I think that's where we all started from."
The plan calls for the groups to improve coordination and teamwork, share resources, increase minority involvement and set objective performance standards.
The groups will issue scorecards to track progress in achieving regional and organizational goals, establish a coordinating committee and, by fall, form a fund-raising plan.
The strategy is the result of a four-month study by the Canyon Group Inc. of Los Angeles, a longtime consultant to Constellation Energy Group Inc. whose former chief executive, Christian H. Poindexter, is the incoming GBC chairman.
"This wasn't necessarily a comfortable process all along the way," said David Jay Lefkowith, president of the Canyon Group. "It's not like we started out singing `Kumbaya.'"
Whelley acknowledged the difficulty.
"It's is hard to give up ownership," she said.
The study quickly concluded that each group had a distinct mission and should continue to exist, their leaders said.
The Downtown Partnership is charged with improving the city's core business district, while the GBA and GBC target the broader metro area.
The GBA is to focus on attracting new businesses and retaining existing ones, the GBC on policy and infrastructure issues and business climate.
Confusion over the groups' roles has caused problems during fund raising when each of the three organizations tries to secure roughly $2 million a year from corporate donations and one organization beats another to a potential donor's door.
"I'd go to a fund-raising meeting and ask for money for GBA, and they'd say, 'O.K., but what does GBC do?'" said John A. MacColl, vice chairman and general counsel of the St. Paul Cos. and chairman of the GBA. "It caused greater Baltimore's economic health to get lost in the shuffle."
The organizations embarked on their new course at a time when the city in particular has been struggling to retain businesses and population. It also is a time when attendance at Orioles games, at conventions and at many Inner Harbor attractions has declined.
At the same time, many companies in the region have reduced their work forces as the economy slowed. Technology companies such as Aether Systems Inc. and Ciena Corp. have made particularly deep employment cuts.
"The region is under stress because the economics of today are tough," said James L. Shea, Downtown Partnership chairman and managing partner of the law firm Venable, Baetjer and Howard.
"We have not unified to make it as business friendly as it needs to be, there are fewer headquarters here and some headquarter operations face difficult situations across the world," he said.
The performance scorecards will help "raise the bar" by making regional and organization goals explicit and publicly tracking progress in achieving them, the groups said.
"These scorecards become a way that the organizations can work together, instead of [engaging in] very subtle but real competition," Shea said. "It creates a whole new dynamic that we need."
The new strategy also will make it easier for the organizations' leaders to work together, said Ioanna T. Morfessis, president and chief executive of the GBA, who plans to resign at year's end.
"This helps us get our agendas in greater alignment," she said. "People will understand that even though we are independent, we are interdependent."
The groups also will establish a coordinating committee to oversee progress -- at the same time making sure that group doesn't usurp power from the three individual entities and turn into "a super board."
By September, the group hopes to have a fund-raising plan in place, Lefkowith said. It is unclear whether that will entail integrated fund raising. But GBA and GBC may eventually move to common financial and accounting systems.
The idea of closer coordination among the three organizations has been in discussion for about two years, officials said.
In November, as GBC head Donald P. Hutchinson prepared to leave for his new job as head of SunTrust Bank's regional operations, local leaders began discussing the possibility of a merger. They agreed to examine whether the organizations worked as efficiently and cooperatively as they could.
The bottom line is simple, according to GBC's Poindexter: "If we can work together, we can do a better job."