Maryland rises and falls on Baltimore City's health

At a recent awards ceremony, where I was honored to be named the industrialist of the year by the Baltimore Museum of Industry, I issued a challenge to business leaders and elected officials in attendance.

I’m writing today to extend it to you, too. Whether you’re starting a new company or operating an existing one, I want you to consider Baltimore City as an integral part of your home. Why? Simple: We all rise or fall based on the health and performance of our city.

You might not believe it — recent polls suggest that many do not believe it — but a successful inner core leads to stronger, healthier suburbs. It fosters attracting investment for both new and existing businesses. It is a predictor of more consistent and sustainable regional growth. And of course, it means choking back poverty, gaining the upper hand in the fight against drugs and crime, creating jobs and improving the futures of our children in the city and the surrounding suburbs. There are no moats, there is no barbed wire separating Baltimore City from our wealthier and healthier suburbs.

A study by the Brookings Institution on the future of older industrial cities concludes that Baltimore is in strong position to excel. One of the study’s authors, Alan Berube, told The Baltimore Sun:

“All of the signs of where the national and global economy are headed point very directly toward cities,” Mr. Berube told columnist Dan Rodricks. “That’s where the high-value jobs are going, that’s where new generations want to live, and it’s very hard to imagine over the next 30 years that the Maryland economy as a whole can succeed, can sustain its position of economic advantage, if the city of Baltimore isn’t healthy.”

We recently relocated our bank headquarters from the wealthiest suburban county in Maryland to the city, and so we know first-hand that Baltimore is good for businesses of all sizes, ages and industries. Here is what I’d like you to know and what I urge you to do to make a truly informed decision about the best place to serve your customers, care for employees and conduct business.

Since Howard Bank got its start in Howard County nearly 15 years ago, my colleagues and I have focused on expanding in Anne Arundel, Harford, Cecil and Baltimore County and city — the greater Baltimore area. That decision struck many as strange considering our proximity to Washington, D.C., and its suburbs, but we believe in the power of this diverse, neighborhood rich, relationship-intense geography versus our higher turnover, transaction-oriented neighbors to the south.

During the past decade and a half, many of our valued customers and investors asked the same question: Why Baltimore? My answer has always remained the same, from the time we were a small private institution until now, when we’re a growing publicly traded company: density.

Density can be a dirty word in some circles, but it plays a key role in driving business and building relationships. At our company, we understand that banking isn’t about borrowing and lending and deposit gathering as much as it is about connecting people. It’s about bringing individuals and their ideas together. Pockets of density are necessary for fostering diversity and inclusiveness, richer connections, infrastructure strengths, transportation efficiencies, sports and art venue sustainability. Density fosters sustainability if planned.

I know there are skeptics among you, so, I ask you to do some homework.

Educate yourself on the value of an urban core for a region — then focus on our region in particular. Second, I challenge everybody to engage more than you already are in this urban core, whether it’s visiting it more regularly with your family or taking part in more debates or commitments in, as well as about, the city. And once you’ve done those two things, then leverage what you observe and what you know and are doing and share it with others.

The city belongs to us. We are all invested in its future. The potential of direct human interaction and easy accessibility is what lured us at Howard Bank to Baltimore City, and I can already tell you that we do not regret it for a moment.

We accepted the challenge. Will you?

Mary Ann Scully (mascully@howardbank.com) is chair and CEO of Howard Bank.

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