Selling the city with all its charm

Image: Baltimore can be a tough sell to college graduates and other professionals who hold negative impressions.

March 13, 2004|By June Arney and John Woestendiek | June Arney and John Woestendiek,SUN STAFF

For those who love it, Baltimore has many charms. But for some not personally acquainted with its cozy vitality, Charm City can be viewed as less appealing.

Consider Terrell Owens, the San Francisco 49ers wide receiver who has been traded to the Ravens but who, on the whole, would rather be in Philadelphia.

Baltimore can be a tough sell, recruiters say. Those responsible for luring business and academic stars to local institutions and others worried about the flood of college students out of the city after graduation are working on the problem.

"In a perfect world, we want to retain as many of those talented young professionals in Baltimore as we can," said David Warschawski, president and founder of Warschawski Public Relations, a boutique firm based in Baltimore. "Instead people like me need to go and hire headhunters to try to convince them to come back. Why did we ever let them get away?"

Case in point: Warschawski said he is reviewing impressive resumes from one candidate who attended college at Loyola and then built his career in New York and another who attended high school in Baltimore, went to college in Syracuse, N.Y., and now lives in San Francisco.

"Why aren't the kids from Baltimore coming back?" asked Warschawski who comes to Baltimore by way of Switzerland and New York. "You see people in Boston and New York coming back. Perceptually, they're great towns for young people. When they think of hot cities to move to, Baltimore is not on their top 10 list."

"Baltimore's brand perception needs work," said Warschawski, whose firm does pro bono work for Baltimore's Collegetown Network, an organization of area colleges. "There are definitely a lot of people who, the moment they find out we're in Baltimore, reject us out of hand."

It's a challenge that Baltimore's colleges and the city are addressing through the Collegetown Network and a new City Hall initiative called Creative Baltimore - both designed to boost the city's image and retain great talent.

But for sports personalities, dollars-and-cents issues likely run far deeper than concern over Baltimore's image.

Dan Issel, a star forward for the American Basketball Association's Kentucky Colonels, spent a week fighting his trade in 1975 to the Baltimore Claws - in part because he saw it as a troubled team; in part because, as a "country boy," he thought he would feel ill at ease in the "big city."

As it turned out, he was wrong on the second count - the landscape and in particular the horse tracks appealed to him - but right on the first.

His first paycheck from the Claws bounced, and, shortly before the team went under - before the regular season even started - he was traded to the Denver Nuggets for center Dave Robisch, who, upon learning of his new home, said: "I feel like I've fallen off the face of the earth."

Then came Reggie Jackson, the slugger who said it broke his heart when the A's traded him to the Orioles in 1976, and then left after just one season to join the Yankees. George Steinbrenner signed him to a five-year contract that called for $2.9 million - almost twice as much as Jackson had asked for from the Orioles.

And then there's John Elway, the legendary Denver Broncos quarterback who refused to come to Baltimore after being drafted in 1983.

"I have nothing against the city [of Baltimore]," Elway said in 1996. "I said it 800 times. I'm at the point where I'm kind of tired of saying it because it was never anything against the city. It was [coach Frank] Kush and [owner Robert] Irsay. That's the whole deal."

About the money

A player's ability to generate money from sponsorship deals is affected by the market in which they play, sports experts say. The bigger the market, the more money that can be made.

So although Baltimore natives may find their pride hurt by Owens' desire to rescind his trade to the Ravens, his desire probably has a lot more to do with economics than with the city.

The college market is another place where Baltimore's image is key.

"Colleges in the area do have trouble recruiting faculty as well as students," said Kristen Campbell, executive director of Collegetown Network. "They feel like the national, and even the local perception of Baltimore, is either fuzzy or negative."

Baltimore, home to about 100,000 college students, has not been able to capture the imagination of the students who go to school here the way Boston, New York and even Philadelphia have.

Creative Baltimore was launched a few months ago to promote the city as a diverse, opportunity-rich place to attract artists, students, young professionals, creative entrepreneurs and empty nesters. The ideas are based on Richard Florida's book: The Rise of the Creative Class.

Florida promotes the theory that the cities with the greatest ability to attract the creative class - defined as a fast-growing, highly educated, and well-paid segment of the work force on whose efforts corporate profits and economic growth increasingly depend - will be most successful.

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