FIERCE was the only way to describe the competition in 1994 among cities that wanted to be in the federal Empowerment Zone program. When Baltimore found out it was among the chosen few, the announcement was trumpeted by some as the single greatest accomplishment of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's administration and the linchpin to secure the city's economic future.
Expectations have remained high, even as the people managing Baltimore's three empowerment zones (Sandtown-Winchester and Pigtown in West Baltimore, the neighborhoods around the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in East Baltimore and Fairfield in South Baltimore) have discovered the problems facing them are even bigger than they thought.
They have achieved only modest success in luring new businesses to these poor neighborhoods and providing jobs to their residents. But that success is better than what is occurring in other Enterprise Zone cities. In fact, Baltimore and Detroit are being hailed by new Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo as the examples to be followed.
Asked recently to discuss the shortcomings of the Baltimore effort, he could not think of any. He said the city is where it should be at this stage of the 10-year program. It has created a management entity, Empower Baltimore. It has established boards that represent business, government and neighborhoods. It has committed $30 million of its $100 million empowerment grant and has used part of its $250 million in tax incentives to create, expand or relocate 26 businesses that provide 1,400 jobs.
Empower Baltimore has much more to accomplish in making Empowerment Zone neighborhoods more attractive as work sites and zone residents more attractive as workers. But Mr. Cuomo says it's on the right track. He also says those cities doing well in the Empowerment Zone and smaller Enterprise Communities programs will have a "leg up" in the competition for new economic development dollars.
President Clinton is asking Congress to approve another 20 empowerment zones, which is somewhat surprising since the 1994 funds were viewed as the last huge outlay cities should expect from federal government. If that is not going to be the case, Baltimore is in position to benefit. But it must build on its success so far.
Pub Date: 4/15/97