Grow the city by 10,000 businesses? Not really

Grow the city by 10,000 businesses? Not so much.

The new board chair of the Greater Baltimore Committee said in remarks Monday at the organization's annual meeting that the city should focus on growing — not just by 10,000 families, as in Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's mantra, but by 10,000 businesses as well.

"Let's just not talk about the goal — a great one — of bringing 10,000 families to Baltimore. Let's talk about building 10,000 companies [in] Baltimore ," said David Warnock, to loud applause.

Pulling it off would involve just about doubling the number of businesses in the city.

Baltimore had about 10,334 individual firms at 12,089 locations in 2011, the last time the U.S. Census did a detailed count. That was down about 5 percent from 2007, when the city had 10,945 firms with 12,702 establishments.

A separate Census estimate, which identifies the number of business locations but not individual firms, found there were about 12,280 establishments in 2013, up roughly 1 percent from 12,128 in 2012.

In an interview last week, Warnock, a co-founder of the Camden Partners private equity firm, said he had not intended the 10,000-business figure to be taken literally, but was using it for rhetorical resonance. What's more, he said, making sure existing firms stay and expand is just as, if not more, important than the number of firms.

"More is probably better, but scaling them is best of all," he said.

For that, he said, the region needs infrastructure like the Red Line, as well as programs, such as the GBC's Bridging the Gap Initiative, that provide mentoring for entrepreneurs and leaders of small businesses.

"A lot of small business CEOs just don't have somebody to talk to," he said. "To the extent that we can continue to foster those relationships, we become a much more welcoming place."

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