In 2017 ExpertMarket.com placed Baltimore fifth among "top cities for minority entrepreneurs." The city ranked second in economic opportunities for minorities, fifth for opportunity share of new entrepreneurs and sixth for startup density. Of course, entrepreneurs know rankings don’t equal reality, and I can say unequivocally that Baltimore has a long way to go.
Such rankings could become the reality, however, if city leaders listened to the needs of the communities and large corporations partnered with small businesses. Millions of dollars and resources are poured into communities in or near the Inner Harbor or Harbor East while areas like West Baltimore consistently struggle with economic growth and residents live in food deserts.
Recently, Mayor Catherine Pugh announced that Planet Fitness would be occupying the space of the retailer Marshalls at Mondawmin Mall. Some would argue that this is a great opportunity for the residents in that community to access fitness amenities. Although this could hold some truth, the reality is that the West Baltimore community houses several of those amenities already, including the Campus Recreation and Wellness program at Coppin State University.
West Baltimore needs help, and adding a Planet Fitness is not exactly the solution. Over the last five years, Mondawmin Mall has been through major changes that were all supposed to benefit the community. Housed there once was a Neighborhood Wellness Center that opened and closed its doors within a year. This center was designed to provide health care and resources to the entire family as a solution to the health care barriers for low-income families. In 2018, Target closed its doors at Mondawmin Mall because it was considered "low performing." This month Marshalls closed its doors because of "real-estate strategies." These closings, to residents, aren't in the best interests of the community but instead the best interests of the local government and real estate investors.
In order for our communities to be better, we must listen to the members of the community and invest in them. City leaders should have held a listening session for the community to see what they would like to see in their neighborhood. West Baltimore could currently be considered in a state of emergency. High crime rates, food deserts and major changes in the educational system are a clear indication that the community needs local politicians and leaders to stand up and start being strategic when making decisions to better this community.
According to Forbes.com, Baltimore places fifth in a ranking of the “Top 10 Rising Cities for Startups” based on costs, education levels, college presence, entrepreneurship rates, working-age population growth and venture capital investment. As an entrepreneur, resident and leader in Baltimore, I appreciate the coverage, but I question how equitably the benefits of this “rising city” are being felt across the city.
City officials should incentivize retailers and small businesses to work collaboratively to drive economic development in communities like West Baltimore. Specifically, it would be great to see local small businesses (entrepreneurs) and large retailers work collaboratively in a supply chain at Mondawmin Mall. Small business owners (entrepreneurs) should be empowered to start and keep their businesses in Baltimore and place them in locations like Mondawmin Mall.
There was a time when West Baltimore thrived economically from small businesses, and in a collaborative and strategic effort it can thrive again — and we can have sustainable communities that will drive the Amazons to Baltimore. Supporting small businesses and listening to the needs of the community can help diminish crime and blight.
Let's be intentional with investing in our communities. We will never be a thriving, innovative city with bad management of resources, lack of investment in our talent and government officials that value popularity over impact.
West Baltimore needs a healthy new start but not with a new gym. Let’s make “Believe in Baltimore” a strategy rather than a slogan.
Tammira Lucas is executive director of the Warnock Foundation; she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.