New GBC leadership looks to reinvigorate economy by promoting Baltimore region’s strengths, fixing weaknesses | COMMENTARY

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Afternoon clouds gather over downtown Baltimore. Post-pandemic, the city is looking to improve its regional "brand" and economic prospects with help from the Greater Baltimore Committee and its new president and CEO, Mark Anthony Thomas. File. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

On Thursday, the Greater Baltimore Committee held its annual meeting, the 67th such gathering since the advocacy group was formed by local civic and business leaders to help revitalize Baltimore. It was notable in several regards, not the least of which was the formal introduction of the new GBC President and CEO Mark Anthony Thomas to the 700 or so people in attendance. The significance of that event goes well beyond mere change in stationery or the “About Us” link of the Greater Baltimore Committee website. Hired last fall by the GBC after leading a similar regional alliance in Pittsburgh, Thomas is clearly interested in seeing the organization play a more activist and ambitious role in the region’s future.

His 10-year plan begins with what he calls “creating a brand” for Baltimore — and not just for tourists. It’s about both promoting the region’s too-often overlooked strengths while addressing its shortcomings.


In a recent presentation to The Baltimore Sun Editorial Board, Thomas acknowledged that the city is too often associated with gun violence and policing woes. And while doing more to address public safety is important, it was also critical for outsiders to be made better aware of the significant assets that the Baltimore area already brings to the table. While he and his staff are still exploring the components of the Baltimore “brand,” they surely will give a nod to the region’s relative affordability (no small advantage in the Mid-Atlantic), transportation links (highways, airports, port and rail), life science expertise (Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland health care systems hold national stature) and its institutions of higher education. Indeed, Baltimore’s brain power may be a crucial component of an anticipated bid to make the city a participant in the Biden administration’s plan, announced just two weeks ago, to underwrite regional tech hubs.

It is also refreshing to hear that Thomas sees a greater role for his organization not just in the boardroom but in the neighborhoods. That goes beyond promoting job fairs and better East-West transportation connections (reviving the Red Line, presumably) to doing more for the city’s excess of vacant homes. Given Baltimore has one of the nation’s highest rates of vacancies, and they represent a serious safety concern let alone impediment to revitalization, it’s an overdue focus. And it also speaks to the need for the GBC to be leading the charge on equity and economic inclusion. There may be political differences within the organization, with suburbanites not always singing from the same hymn book (or voter registration roll) as city dwellers, but creating opportunities for historically neglected communities and their residents should be regarded as a nonpartisan, non-parochial victory for all. This is how an entire region, and not just the outskirts of a post-industrial city, truly prospers.


Yet we would be remiss if we did not remind the GBC CEO and his board that there’s quite a bit of unfinished business still to be addressed on the economic development front. In addition to reviving the Red Line (with Gov. Wes Moore’s help, presumably), there’s the future of the abandoned State Center, the revival of the Inner Harbor, the ongoing conversations about regional authorities to govern transit and the water and sewer systems, a potential reduction in the city property tax rate (within reason) and helping local governments pay their share of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the multibillion-dollar K-12 education reform plan. Upgrading schools must remain a top priority, not only to prepare the next generation for good jobs, but to attract and retain newcomers seeking to raise families here.

With last year’s merger with the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, the demand for a more vigorous and relevant GBC to represent the interests of all has never been more apparent. This region’s diversity ought to be regarded as a strength and an essential part of its brand. If we are capable of cheering for each other’s successes as we do the Orioles and Ravens, if we value what we have in common above our differences, if we can envision a better future for ourselves and our children regardless of race, religion, income level or gender, we are capable of putting the “great” in Greater Baltimore.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.