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A chance to beef up economic efforts

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A mayor gets the kind of government he appoints and the kinds of structures he wants. Four years ago, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke reorganized Baltimore's economic promotion efforts by folding Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management and Market Center Development Corp. into Baltimore Development Corp.

This concentration was intended to produce economies and end duplication. Yet a committee appointed by Mayor Schmoke to evaluate BDC's performance said the end result was an agency that lacked focus and standards against which to measure its success.

"BDC is a reactive organization relying on crisis management as contrasted with a focused entity operating within a clear strategic framework," the groups says in a draft report.

"The mayor must place more emphasis on demonstrating to business and community stakeholders that economic development is one of the city's top priorities, on par with education and public safety."

The panel recommends a total overhaul of BDC. Some of its secondary promotion and management functions would be farmed out to such private organizations as the Downtown Partnership and the Chamber of Commerce, and many housing initiatives would be transferred to proper city bureaucracies.

BDC's new mission would be to concentrate on retaining and attracting larger companies in the downtown and Inner Harbor area and handle industrial development.

In a way -- and Mr. Schmoke surely does not want to be reminded of this -- the panel hopes to return the development structure to what existed under William Donald Schaefer as mayor.

Coming so close to the Sept. 12 city primary election, the BDC recommendations are a political bombshell. Nevertheless Mr. Schmoke ought to bite the bullet and implement the overhaul. It is time to return independence to BDC and make it once more an agency composed of competent professionals.

The BDC draft report has been ready for some three weeks; yet some City Hall advisers apparently persuaded Mayor Schmoke that not releasing it would be easier than having the strongly-worded assessment in print. As so often in the past, Mr. Schmoke was given bad advice, and he took it.

Now that recession is over, economic development opportunities abound. But as long as Baltimore does not have a top-notch agency to lure companies and money it will continue to lose to other cities and counties. This cannot be what the mayor wants.

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