Robert Keller, the longtime head of the Greater Baltimore Committee, is being considered for the presidency of a blue chip economic development group in Detroit.
The news comes at a time when the GBC, the most powerful private economic development group in the state, pushes for the development of a new life science-based industry in Maryland while facing criticism for failing to address the needs of city businesses.
Comprising the top executives throughout the Baltimore area, the GBC has become the dominant lobbying and fund-raising group for business leaders to shape the future of the region.
Under Mr. Keller, the GBC has led drives to make life sciences a foundation of new regional economic growth, establish college scholarship funds and bring a professional football team back to Baltimore.
Mr. Keller, in response to a reporter's question, confirmed yesterday he had been contacted by a "headhunter" about the possibility of taking over the presidency of Detroit Renaissance, a committee of the top 40 chief executive officers of Detroit-area companies, including the Big Three automakers.
Mr. Keller, who as president serves as the top official of the GBC, downplayed the importance of the news, however, saying he has been approached about other economic development jobs in the past.
"It is flattering and annoying at the same time," he said. "This may well be much ado about nothing."
Mr. Keller declined to say whether he had visited Detroit, or to make further comment.
But a spokesman for Detroit Renaissance said newspapers there had reported that Mr. Keller was one of a very few economic development administrators under consideration for the job.
"I can confirm that it is most likely that that [the situation reported in the newspapers] is the case," said Keith Kaminski, director of media relations for the Detroit group.
Mr. Kaminski said the group expected to make a decision within two months. Mr. Keller joined the GBC in 1981 after working as a reporter and editor of The Evening Sun. The 50-year-old Baltimorean is widely viewed as one of the most knowledgeable and influential members of the area's business community.
Opinions were mixed within the local business community yesterday about Mr. Keller's performance and prospects.
Tucky P. Ramsey, owner of a marketing firm called Presenting Baltimore Inc., who resigned recently from the GBC to help form a new Baltimore Chamber of Commerce, said she and many other local business people were concerned that the GBC was not meeting the needs of small businesses in the 1990s.
Ms. Ramsey said the GBC had become less effective because many of the high-powered executives who had helped Baltimore during the 1980s were gone now, and the committee's remaining leadership had not adapted to the changed economy.
"Bob has done some good things," such as helping small biotechnology companies, she said.
But, she added, "the whole power structure has changed. There is no Alan Hoblitzell [former chairman of MNC Financial Inc.] Norman Blake[the new president of USF&G;] doesn't want to be a player."
Decatur H. Miller, managing partner of the Baltimore law firm of Piper & Marbury and chairman of the GBC board, said the wooing of Mr. Keller by the Detroit group showed how well his performance at the GBC was respected across the nation.
"This speaks well for Bob," he said.
Mr. Miller said the formation of the new chamber of commerce was not a sign of problems at the GBC.