Christian Johansson, who helped the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore shift to a more targeted approach in attracting business to the region, will step down as the organization's president and chief executive in July.
The alliance, a private economic development marketing group, said yesterday that Johansson is leaving after five years at the helm to start a private equity firm focused on minority businesses.
"He has been energetic and has gotten out into the community and helped expand our board and our reach tremendously," said Laura Gamble, chairwoman of the alliance's board and president of Bank of America-Maryland. "We've gotten more businesses involved, which is a great thing and some businesses that weren't involved prior, largely due to Christian's efforts."
When Johansson joined the alliance as CEO, he was one of the youngest in the nation to run a top 20 regional economic development organization. He succeeded Ioanna T. Morfessis, the first president of the group, formerly called the Greater Baltimore Alliance. Board members who initially selected Johansson, who did not have the typical economic development background, said they were impressed with his business experience.
"His approach to economic development is totally unorthodox ... to search out the companies we want to come here and approach them and sell them on Baltimore before they've made a decision," said the board vice chairman and treasurer, Edward St. John, who is president of St. John Properties.
Under Johansson's leadership, the board shifted from a more general strategy of trying to entice large companies from outside the region to a more targeted approach, focusing on business in the life sciences, financial services, information technology and defense, all growing sectors in the region. Board members said the alliance had been actively involved in new recruitment that has generated or will generate several thousand new jobs.
The alliance helped to recruit companies such as Healthways, which opened a nurse call center in Columbia in 2004 and has grown to 335 jobs, and Chubb Insurance, a New Jersey property and casualty insurance provider that opened a processing center in 2006 in Montgomery Park with 250 workers.
Johansson said he also felt proud of the role the alliance played in helping to facilitate Morgan Stanley's plans to bring 900 employees to a new office tower to be built in Harbor Point, near Fells Point. He said the financial services company relied partly on alliance research and connections to make its decision.
Johansson said he felt he had been able to accomplish many of his goals, including "making sure we had positive growth and momentum in the Baltimore/Washington region, and that we're very competitive. That has happened."
He and a partner plan to start a private equity firm called Continental Equity, which will back the creation of well-capitalized, minority-owned companies that can become key suppliers to Fortune 500 companies in the Mid-Atlantic. Johansson previously was a senior consultant for Sag Harbor Group in Boston, a telecommunications consulting firm.