The Greater Baltimore Committee and the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore announced plans Wednesday to merge, saying a unified approach is needed to boost economic opportunity and solve long-entrenched problems.
By joining forces, the business advocacy groups said they will be better positioned to help the Baltimore region compete and thrive not only locally but nationally and internationally. They pledged to develop strategies to achieve equitable, dynamic and sustainable economic impact that benefit the Baltimore community.
Calvin G. Butler Jr., chair of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said the region needs a single, comprehensive organization with a clear inclusive vision to bring about lasting growth in local communities, stronger civic engagement and a thriving environment for neighborhoods and businesses.
The region is rich in diverse industry sectors but lacks a cohesive organizational structure, strategy and operating plan, he said.
“Our issues are the same, as the city and the region — it’s crime, education, workforce development, job creation, economic development — those haven’t changed,” Butler, a top Exelon Corp. executive, said during a virtual news conference Wednesday afternoon. “What we are suggesting here is that the business community has an opportunity to have a greater voice in cracking those solutions.”
The business community must recommit itself to driving a “narrative of opportunity” that stresses the region’s assets, physical attributes and people, Brian D. Pieninck, chair of the economic alliance, said during the media call.
“The conversation in Baltimore always seems to start with challenges,” said Pieninck, the president and CEO of CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield.
He said the organizations complement one another in that GBC has focused on advocacy and policy, while the alliance has focused on research and marketing.
GBC has worked to improve the region’s business climate by organizing corporate and civic leaders to address economic growth, job creation, workforce development, transportation, business climate and quality of life. The GBC has more than 500 member businesses, nonprofit groups and educational and civic institutions.
The alliance has sought to bring together business, government, education and nonprofit leaders to promote economic development.
Butler, an Exelon senior executive vice president and its chief operating officer, became chair in October 2020, and vowed to work to improve racial equity and inclusion at businesses in the region.
He said his hope for the newly merged business alliance, which initially will keep the Greater Baltimore Committee name and downtown office, will be to bring in a broader group of stakeholders, from neighborhoods, nonprofits, faith-based groups, and educational and medical institutions, to work to solve problems.
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“All those corners of our city and our region that have a stake in the outcome need to have a voice at the table,” he said. “We’ve been operating in silos, and we have to break those down to be successful.”
Each board has agreed to the merger, and the legal formation of a new organization should be completed within the next month. But the full transition could go into next year as board members seek input and hire consultants, to create a new board, brand and plans. A committee, working with a consultant, will launch a search for an executive to lead the new organization by June 1.
Plans for the merger come at a time when the GBC was to be undergoing a change in leadership.
Donald C. Fry, who has led the organization for nearly two decades, said earlier this month that he plans to retire June 1. Fry, the GBC’s president and CEO for more than 19 years and a former executive vice president, is the second-longest-serving leader in the group’s 67-year history.
The current CEO of the alliance, economic development specialist Michele L. Whelley, will step down from the job she was appointed to in January 2019 to continue in private consulting work, Pieninck said.
Both groups said the pandemic and an urgency to find new approaches to problems influenced their decision to merge, though conversations about a potential merger and need to move away from fragmentation have been going on informally over the years, Pieninck said.
“The cornerstone of this merger is the shared belief that much more can be done together to further the region’s economic development and sustainable growth as well as a shared commitment to delivering greater and more equitable impact and benefit for the region’s diverse communities,” Pieninck said.