Much of the BDC's work is done outside downtown. According to its 2010 annual report (the most recent one available), 89 of its 93 projects that year were in neighborhoods outside the city center.
Still, there long has been a perception that the BDC is not engaged with the neighborhoods where this public assistance is going.
"It just seems that the BDC is just so much more concerned with downtown," said Mel Freeman, executive director the Citizens Planning & Housing Association Inc., which supports community associations throughout the city.
The BDC's Main Streets division, which supports neighborhood business districts, is doing good work outside downtown, Freeman said, but he would like to see more of it. With increased support, more neighborhoods could look like Federal Hill, he said.
"A strong neighborhood community needs a strong walk-up business district," he said.
To expand neighborhood development, BDC board member Deborah Hunt Devan likes the idea of a neighborhood-business incubator, fashioned after the BDC's successful Emerging Technology Centers. These incubators provide space and business development resources to burgeoning companies — with the hope that they'll stay in the city when they thrive.
Having a neighborhood-focused person on BDC's board also could help shed more light on communities, Freeman suggested. One person can play an important part in shaping the group's opinion, he said.
The BDC board has 15 members, mostly from private companies, and is dominated by individuals with finance backgrounds. Four board members are from the mayor's office.
The perception that the BDC ignores the neighborhoods in favor of downtown development is symptomatic of the agency's poor self-promotion. At the December board meeting, after staff presentations were made to introduce McKenzie to each of the BDC's divisions, one director openly wondered to his colleagues why the agency's outdated website doesn't show off the staff's recent achievements.
Even Arnold Williams, the board's chairman and the only member who has served on the board since its inception in 1995, grades the BDC poorly when it comes to explaining what it does: "I don't believe the BDC does a good enough job in identifying all of the things that they do."
Duda and Trueheart hope that McKenzie's BDC will go beyond improving public relations and become more generous with the information it provides to the public about its activities.
"The BDC's annual reports are almost comical," said Duda, noting their lack of concrete numbers that reveal the returns on public dollars invested into private companies.
Amid the advice that will continue to bombard McKenzie is sure to be the suggestion to sustain work already begun.
"The BDC has done a good job of building on strength," said Andrew Frank, a former deputy mayor who now is an economic development adviser to the Johns Hopkins University's president.
In recent years, the BDC has started studying the needs of up-and-coming parts of the city and established institutions, and adding such necessities as housing around bustling biotech hubs.
It will be key for McKenzie to keep up the relationships with the hospitals and universities and focus on using them as jumping-off points for new endeavors, Frank said.
The BDC needs to emphasize the basics — helping businesses resolve bureaucratic issues like improper water bills and permitting challenges — to keep the city's current companies satisfied, said Baltimore City Councilman Edward L. Reisinger.
"The biggest job for Brenda … is to be an effective partner with the various stakeholders," said J. Thomas Sadowski, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore.
McKenzie said she's prepared to do that and she's ready to get out there and sell Baltimore. Charm City's like a restaurant that was recommended by a friend, she said. You expect it to be good, she explained. But then, when you get there, it isn't just OK — it knocks your socks off.
"It's so surprisingly good," she said.