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Baltimore region should celebrate its return to the Fortune 500 — then get to work leveraging it | COMMENTARY

A virtual rendering of T. Rowe Price's planned Harbor Point headquarters, where it's moving from its downtown location. The pair of buildings include retail and amenity space.
A virtual rendering of T. Rowe Price's planned Harbor Point headquarters, where it's moving from its downtown location. The pair of buildings include retail and amenity space. (Kohn Penderson Fox)

For the past 67 years, Fortune magazine has compiled a listing of the top publicly held U.S. companies based on revenue, which many have used to gauge a region’s success and prominence in the American business world. If you’ve got a Fortune 500 company in your midst, you’re on the business map.

Unfortunately, the Baltimore region has not had any companies on the Fortune 500 list since Constellation Energy was acquired by Exelon Corp. in 2012. Since then, many in media have questioned whether the absence of Baltimore-area companies on the list seemed to signal that the region was not a significant player in the business world.

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But the dry spell is over, and that skepticism should be set aside.

The 2021 Fortune 500 list, which came out June 2, has not one but three Baltimore area companies on it: McCormick & Co. Inc. and Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., both headquartered in Baltimore County; and T. Rowe Price Group Inc., which is based in the city.

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This is cause for well-deserved applause and celebration at the companies themselves and the region on the whole. It signals to corporate America that the Baltimore area possesses the key assets and amenities needed to base and operate a successful, growing company headquarters, namely: a highly skilled and educated workforce, a thriving research university network, attractive affordability, and vital racial and cultural diversity.

These assets are why researchers at The Brookings Institution in 2016 ranked the Baltimore metro area as one of the world’s “knowledge capitals,” an impressive list that includes such economic power hubs as San Jose, Seattle and Zurich. The goal of the Brookings researchers was to identify the most productive innovation centers with talented workforces and elite research universities in the United States and Europe. Just 19 metro areas made the list.

Any of the Baltimore companies named to the Fortune 500 could move to another region or state. But they choose to stay because the Baltimore region has what they need to be great companies that can stand with the giants of American enterprise, as the Brookings study underscores.

As Fortune says about the Fortune 500, “The name is synonymous with business success.” Think Walmart, Amazon and Apple: Nos. 1, 2 and 3 on the list.

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It is interesting to note that McCormick, Sinclair and T. Rowe improved their 2020 revenues to make the recent list during a very challenging year for many companies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is due in part to the strength of their top executives and their employees, all of whom help make an innovative and thriving business ecosystem in the region that is sometimes not fully recognized.

In McCormick’s case, revenues were lifted 4.7% to $5.6 billion as sales improved with the cook-at-home trend driven by the pandemic. McCormick is No. 482 on the list.

Sinclair debuted on the list as No. 465 by posting $5.9 billion in revenue, a 40% gain, in part due to its regional sports networks.

T. Rowe Price posted a 10.5% increase in sales to $6.2 billion, thanks in part to a recovery in global markets, pushing the company to No. 447 on the list.

These companies’ business leadership and success further bolster Maryland as a good fit for a major company’s corporate headquarters. Three other companies in the state are also listed on the Fortune 500: Lockheed Martin, No. 49, and Marriott International, No. 293, both based in Bethesda; and Discovery, No. 290, based in Silver Spring. It’s worth noting that Exelon, No. 92 on the Fortune 500, has a regional headquarters in Baltimore.

Meanwhile four other Baltimore area companies are on the Fortune 1,000 list: Under Armour, No. 578, and Laureate Education Inc., No. 803, both based in Baltimore; Ciena Corp., No. 666, based in Hanover; and Colfax Corp., No. 737, located in Annapolis Junction.

The key is for the Baltimore region to leverage its reemergence onto the prestigious Fortune 500 by showcasing these great companies and the many outstanding attributes and amenities the region has to offer to a business operation, whether it’s a fledgling startup or a market leader.

The new Fortune rankings represent the perfect opportunity to tell the country, if not the world, that the Baltimore region means business.

Donald C. Fry (donaldf@gbc.org) is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

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