A decade ago, a gathering of the chief executive officers o big businesses with headquarters in Baltimore could fill a small restaurant. Today, the same group could probably squeeze around a dining-room table.

The mergers and buyouts of the 1980s cost Baltimore some powerful business leaders. And still more leaders with the resources to help solve the city's problems have been lost thanks to the recession of the 1990s.

The shrinking leadership pool became front-page news last fall, when, within weeks of each other, Alan P. Hoblitzell Jr. of MNC Financial and Jack Moseley of USF&G; resigned. Their companies were among Baltimore's most generous corporate givers, and they were the most visible of Baltimore's civic leaders. They were emblems of an era.

To assess how the changes in corporate Baltimore affect the city, Sun reporters David Rosenthal and Will Englund interviewed several dozen business people, politicians, foundation directors and community leaders. They learned that how the business community exerts its influence in the future may be very different from the practices of the past. And reporter Michael Ollove looked at Minneapolis, a national model for civic-minded companies.

Who will emerge as leaders? What will be their agenda? Baltimore's problems can't wait long for an answer.

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