Under new leadership, Greater Baltimore Committee seeks to give region competitive edge through 10-year plan

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With a new leader at the helm, the Greater Baltimore Committee plans to develop a 10-year strategy to transform the city and region into a top national market for business and economic development.

The GBC has been shifting direction since last year, merging with the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, a move that linked two regional business advocacy groups, and taking on a new president and CEO in December after a national search. Mark Anthony Thomas, a business leader who has steered economic development in Pittsburgh, New York and Los Angeles, replaced longtime CEO Donald Fry who retired after two decades.

Mark Anthony Thomas, CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

Thomas, who most recently served as president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, unveiled the business group’s multiyear agenda and announced plans to develop a regional economic opportunity strategy during the GBC’s annual meeting Thursday evening. More than 700 people, including leaders in business, technology, education, real estate and the civic community, attended the meeting and cocktail party spread throughout an unfinished floor of one of the new Baltimore Peninsula office buildings in South Baltimore.

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Thomas described the agenda as “a road map to ensure that we’re being economically competitive,” saying it is “designed to position the GBC to really shape the region’s economic future.”


That positioning is crucial, Thomas said, because economic groups must be visionary and strategic and take the lead on attracting investment to have an impact on their cities. He said he has seen the results in places like Pittsburgh.

In a three-year agenda released Thursday, the GBC said business advocacy groups in New York, Atlanta, Houston and elsewhere rely on a fundamentally different model than the GBC’s, typically setting ambitious, long-term agendas and operating with larger budgets and staffs.

Successful groups realized that businesses and governments need to connect to get big things done. As a result, metro areas in the Sunbelt have been able to drive the greatest growth and migration, the agenda said.

Once the GBC is positioned to lead, it can take steps to leverage the impact of the private sector, Thomas said.

The “economic opportunity strategy,” to be developed with the help of a consultant over the next six months, is expected to include initiatives that would attract public and private investment and foster growth of new and existing businesses. It will identify specific, realistic opportunities and outline ways the region can prepare to take advantage of them, he said.

“A way to think about it is over the next 10 years, there will probably be another million entrepreneurs in America,” Thomas said. “What are the areas that the new businesses will be created in and how do we ensure that our region is messaging and targeting the right growth.”

Thomas said he sees a lack of economic expansion in the region as a top challenge — but one that can be turned around through more involvement from the private sector, working collaboratively with government and community members, with GBC as an active leader.

He cited a post-coronavirus pandemic recovery study by the Brookings Institution that shows the Baltimore region lagging in areas such as growth and racial inclusion.


Baltimore also must position itself to be a front-runner to compete for federal opportunities and money, Thomas said. He said the GBC has begun to organize a bid with other partners to apply for federal funding earmarked to create 20 tech hubs around the country and believes the city needs to be better prepared to make such bids.

Other opportunities mentioned in the GBC’s agenda include developing a city brand that focuses on assets and civic progress rather than on public safety challenges, improving east-west transportation and boosting infrastructure investments.

The agenda also calls for reducing gun violence, supporting Baltimore police recruitment and retention, reducing the number of vacant homes, supporting local hiring and making it easier for entrepreneurs to do business.

Thursday’s meeting was the GBC’s first official introduction of Thomas and other new leaders.

The event was kicked off by Kevin Plank, the founder of Under Armour and head of the Sagamore Ventures investment firm, which spearheaded the Baltimore Peninsula project nearly a decade ago.

Speaking in front of a large window overlooking Under Armour’s new 280,000-square-foot headquarters across East Cromwell Street, Plank said Baltimore doesn’t ”think enough of ourselves sometimes and what it means to be in this city. ... What if we got organized? What if we got coordinated? What if we had one vision for what this city could be,” combining public and private efforts.


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Baltimore Peninsula represents part of the vision of what the city can be, Plank said.

Gov. Wes Moore, who also spoke at Thursday’s event, said he believes this is Maryland’s decade and Baltimore’s time.

But “there are still very real challenges and there are still very real obstacles that we have to address and we have to do it with open eyes,” he said, such as economic growth that has left out some communities, low state rankings in economic competitiveness and soaring homicide rates.

”The reason that we are moving so aggressively and the reason that we are going to need this organization and each and every one of you in partnership is that we are watching the stars align for this region like we have not seen in a generation, and we are not going to miss this moment,” Moore said.

Thomas has more than two decades of experience leading cities’ economic development strategies and public-private partnerships, most recently heading the Pittsburgh alliance, a 10-county regional business investment and talent attraction group for southwestern Pennsylvania.


Under Thomas’ leadership, the Pittsburgh alliance worked with public officials, developers and other partners to position the region for more than $2 billion in capital investment, with more than 100 business expansion and development projects, the GBC said.

The GBC also recently appointed Dr. Mohan Suntha, president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System, as GBC board chair.