Baltimore's proximity to D.C.: economic help or drain?

Are the economic benefits of having D.C. outweighed by its brain drain on Baltimore's talent?

Everyone talks about Baltimore's proximity to Washington, D.C. as an economic godsend. According to a December 2014 article in The Sun, citing a report by The Pew Charitable Trusts, federal government spending in Maryland reached $93 billion in fiscal year 2013, representing 27 percent of the state's economy. But what about the costs of living just 40 miles north of the nation's capital?

D.C. is fast becoming a talent vacuum for Baltimore's most capable and motivated students of law, government and policymaking. Given that Baltimore's most serious problems demand innovative legal and political solutions, this is a damaging trend that our city's leaders must confront.

Compared to other U.S. cities, D.C.'s public and private sectors offer more law and policy jobs and higher salaries, making it a hotbed for talented young people. Most importantly, networking opportunities abound, providing young professionals an opportunity to share and develop their ideas for the future of American governance. Last May, CNBC ranked D.C. the No. 1 city for recent college graduates.

Unfortunately for many, the barriers to entry into this nurturing environment are quite high. Many of D.C.'s most coveted entry-level government jobs demand months of work as an unpaid intern prior to full-time employment. In a city with some of the highest rents in the country, this can be an extremely difficult task to undertake. For students living as far away as California and Oregon, the expense of leaving home, traveling across the country and setting up shop in D.C. might not be worth it. Not so for similarly situated Baltimoreans.

For young politicos living in the Baltimore metro area, the barriers to entry are considerably lower. Maryland schools often brag that their students obtain more positions in the federal government because of their proximity to and connections with Washington, D.C. Maryland's two law schools, the University of Baltimore and University of Maryland, both send more students to D.C. than any of their similarly ranked counterparts — even those with larger graduating classes. Living or going to school just 40 miles from the nation's capital means better access to D.C. jobs, more interviews and the opportunity to save on rent by living at home. This is all great news for Baltimore's young people, but not necessarily good for the city of Baltimore.

The kind of student who is energized to work on law, government or policy in our nation's capital has a lot to offer his or her hometown. State and local policymaking positions are hard to come by, but the young people who find them invariably leave a bigger mark on their communities than those who opt for the ivory tower that is Washington, D.C. Because Baltimore loses so many of its bright minds to D.C., its talent pool for these positions is sadly diminished. This is a drain we cannot afford.

Young families consistently list rampant crime, failing schools and high property taxes as reasons for leaving Baltimore. Following the death of Freddie Gray earlier this year, the nation's attention turned to yet another issue: the civil rights practices of the Baltimore City Police Department. Baltimore is a strong city, known most for its entrepreneurs, athletes and medical professionals. While these figures have been integral to Baltimore's success, what Baltimore needs most is not new gadgets, better sports teams or medical breakthroughs. What we need is legal expertise, competent public management and radically innovative public policy thinkers. We are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to recruiting and retaining that kind of talent.

Washington, D.C. will always be Baltimore's neighbor, and Maryland students interested in government service will always be attracted to the many opportunities offered in the nation's capital. However, Baltimore City leadership must recognize that we are in active competition with our neighbors to capture talent. The Baltimore City Mayoral Fellows Program, offering students internship placements in the mayor's office and at various city agencies, is one step in the right direction. I hope city leaders will continue to support programs like this one while also searching for new and innovative ways to use the resources at their disposal to encourage talented young people to remain in Baltimore. Creating a task force for that purpose might be a good start.

Bill King is a recent Georgetown Law graduate and former legal intern to Congressmen C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Elijah E. Cummings; his email is wbollingerking@gmail.com. Twitter: @BillKingTweets.

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