Baltimore's economic future


OPTIMISM, AS A result of the naming of Roger C. Lipitz to chair the board of the Baltimore Development Corporation, is certainly in order. But that single appointment will not by itself solve all the problems of that agency.

Mr. Lipitz certainly seems the right person to chair the BDC board. He is well respected in the business community, having both built Meredian Healthcare Inc. into a multi-million dollar business and led the University of Maryland Medical System into the private sector.

But even Mr. Lipitz acknowledges that the success of a reorganized BDC will hinge on who is named its next president. The last president, Honora M. Freeman, was reassigned to the mayor's staff amid allegations of ineptitude.

Under mayors dating back to the mid-1960s, all previous directors of the city's economic development agencies had been chosen for their expertise in either business or economic development. Ms. Freeman's background was instead political. She had worked as a lawyer at Shapiro & Olander, a legal firm with close ties to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's political career.

CIt was a critical mistake to make a political appointment to such a post at the same time that the mayor was drastically changing the nature of the job. Mr. Schmoke created BDC four years ago by merging Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management Corp. and Baltimore Economic Development Corp.

The new entity in many respects has not done as well as either of its predecessors. After peaking at 476,000 jobs in 1989, Baltimore had lost 60,000 jobs by July 1994, including 19,000 in the retail sector alone. BDC, under Ms. Freeman, didn't do enough to stop the bleeding.

Mr. Lipitz says he has four immediate goals as board chairman: develop a partnership between BDC and the private sector, recruit the best people he can find to the new BDC board, find the best president he can for BDC, then develop a strategic plan for the agency.

He should act swiftly to form a board that can begin the process of recommending a new BDC president to the mayor. There are capable people available who have the economic development background and existing ties to Maryland business that are necessary. It's just a matter of seeking them out and convincing them to accept the challenge.

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