Attention Baltimore millennials, Wilmington wants you.
That’s in Delaware, not quite 75 miles north on Interstate 95. You know, on the way to Philadelphia.
Business and civic leaders understand that people might not be familiar with the city, so they’re launching a campaign Friday to attract people from here up there, for a job at the chemical conglomerate DuPont or to live in an urban loft along the revitalized riverfront.
“Nothing against Baltimore; we have very good friends there and it’s a wonderful city,” said Jim Stewart, a longtime Wilmington businessman who is chairing the new effort. “But I’ll make the case for Wilmington. It’s something of a hidden jewel.”
The idea is to send out a cohesive marketing message about Wilmington with a positive spin to Baltimore and beyond, Stewart said, though the message sent earlier this month to the media was somewhat harder-edged: “Wilmington trying to steal Baltimore millennials.”
That might elicit a snicker or a huff from some, but if Baltimore’s top cheerleaders were bothered, they didn’t let on. They said things like that there are enough young professionals to go around — which might be because some of them do their own advertising to the people of Washington.
“We're confident that Baltimore stands on its own merits, and we wish Wilmington success in its revitalization efforts," said Annie Milli, executive director Live Baltimore, which showcases the city and helps people find housing.
Milli also said she’s happy to share ideas. She’s been doing that with other cities that have lost population recently, even helping start up a Live Detroit.
“There is no reason to be upset” about the Wilmington pitch, she said. “What’s good for one urban area is ultimately good for all of us.”
Agreed, said Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, which has promoted the transformation of the city center into a vibrant residential neighborhood.
“We’re fans of revitalizing urban cores,” said Fowler, before touting downtown Baltimore’s “endless variety of ways to engage a youthful spirit.”
“If Wilmington, in spite of its small size, can create a similar environment for urban-minded millennials, the entire Mid-Atlantic region will benefit,” Fowler said.
Bernard C. “Jack” Young, president of the Baltimore City Council, was more dismissive of Wilmington’s chances. He suggested officials might have to pay people to move there from here.
“I don’t think cheap rent would be enough,” he said. “Baltimore is a destination. I’m happy to give anyone a tour. In fact, I might go there and offer to do that.”
The numbers appear to be on Young and Baltimore’s side.
It is cheaper to find a place to live in Wilmington than Baltimore, but not by much, according to an analysis by RentCafe. But it’s a lot cheaper to live in Baltimore than Washington. Monthly rent in Wilmington, averages $1,111, and has gone up just $63 from 2014 to 2018. Average rent in Baltimore is $1,234, and in Washington is $2,086.
Baltimore also has the edge over Wilmington in median household income, suggesting millennials might expect higher wages here. Wilmington’s was $35,963 last year, compared with Baltimore’s at $47,131. Washington’s was $82,372.
Population could also be an issue for those looking for diversity in housing, jobs, nightlife and people — Young cited diversity as Baltimore’s greatest strength.
Washington has been growing and now leads with about 694,000 residents in the city. Baltimore’s population overall has dipped slightly to about 612,000, according to the most recent census estimate, even as the downtown has added thousands of apartment units. Wilmington has about 71,000 residents.
There are no big league sports in Wilmington, while Baltimore has the Ravens and the Orioles playing football and baseball in downtown stadiums. Washington has the Redskins, the Nationals and the Wizards.
But for those who love soccer, the Philadelphia Union’s Talen Energy Stadium is just 15 minutes from downtown Wilmington, across the state line. And Philadephia’s Eagles, Phillies and 76ers are just 30 minutes away.
Delaware also has no sales tax. Score one for Wilmington.
Given Delaware’s pro-business legal and financial structure, Wilmington has become home to Fortune 500 headquarters, including DuPont, Chemours and Navient. Also in the plus column, according to the campaign, is its proximity to Philadelphia.
Baltimore no longer has a Fortune 500 headquarters as big local firms were sold to outsiders, but McCormick & Co. and Under Armour are just outside the ranking. And the city is home to two prestigious academic research institutions, the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, and an art school, Maryland Institute College of Art.
Baltimore likely has the edge on quirkiness. Homegrown moviemaker John Waters famously said, “Come to Baltimore and be shocked.”
Just looking at the fundamental numbers to make a decision, as financial types do, “Wilmington might be out of luck,” said Joel Anderson, a personal finance writer for GoBankingRates.com, a personal finance website.
“Aside from the significant difference in population size, there are a lot more similarities than differences” between Wilmington and Baltimore, he said. “Wilmington is actually slightly more expensive in terms of overall cost of living but not by an especially large margin. Median housing prices and median rents are pretty close, with Wilmington a little cheaper but not by the gap you might expect.”
He noted Wilmington had a lower unemployment rate, 4.2 percent to Baltimore’s 4.6 percent, but it has a higher poverty rate with 1 in 4 people living below the poverty line, compared with 1 in 5 in Baltimore.
Crime remains an issue for both cities.
As for the Wilmington campaign, Anderson said he’d never been to either city and moving is really a personal decision. But, he suggested, Wilmington officials might try to sell the place as a cheaper alternative to Philly and not Baltimore.