Advertisement

David Warnock offers a 'Pugh Plan' for economic revitalization in Baltimore

Mayor Catherine Pugh announced that U.S. Holdings, LLC will be moving to Baltimore. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun video)

Baltimore needs a "Pugh Plan" for economic revitalization of Baltimore now. While crime is top of mind in Baltimore, we are simply not going to police our way to prosperity. In addition, despite all the good work of grant makers, we will also not create a robust job creating economy off philanthropy alone. Baltimore has suffered badly from expedient responses when we need long-term solutions. We need a real plan for career education, job creation and economic equity. Interest rates remain at historic lows, and our ability to finance transformative projects is unlikely to improve. We need it now and an activist Mayor Catherine Pugh to implement the plan.

The "Pugh Plan" should five key initiatives:

Advertisement

1. Dramatically expand our career training and dual credit programs in our high schools so youth can graduate with college credits and meaningful certifications in their pockets. There are existing programs in our city where a high school student can graduate with enough college credits to be less than one year away from an associate's degree as well as certifications that allow him or her to be immediately employable; prioritize them. By creating dual credit programs with Baltimore City public high schools, Baltimore City Community College can also replenish its student population with highly motivated scholars.

2. Work with our anchor institutions to bring their suppliers to Baltimore. All good economic development efforts begin by leveraging strengths. Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) spend millions on products and services with companies that have no Baltimore presence. The financial service industry does the same. The mayor should convene industry leaders, ask for a list of their 20 biggest suppliers and vigorously work to bring those suppliers to Baltimore. The mayor should personally visit those companies with representatives of Hopkins and UMMC, for example. There is a strong possibility that if Hopkins or UMMC simply said "we'd do more business with you if you moved to Baltimore" and the mayor outlined the benefits of locating here, we'd move the needle on job creation. Mayors and business leaders are doing it, as we speak in other cities, why can't we?

3. Get serious about funding the Howard Street tunnel expansion. The stops and starts, as well as the lack of will by politicians that continually prevent this critical project from completion, have got to end. The mayor needs to be firebrand on this job creation bonanza. CSX estimates that "hundreds" of jobs would be created expanding the tunnel to allow double stack trailers to go from east to west. We are not talking about digging a new tunnel, as in the Amtrak plan. We are talking about simply expanding the one we've got. Baltimore's port is already one of the fastest growing in the nation. We need to leverage our strengths and make it the undisputed best.

4. Build a modified Red Line. The large number of jobs created at the Baltimore port, Tradepoint Atlantic and Port Covington most likely go to drivers on the 95 corridor unless we create an east-west public transportation system. The cost of the old Red Line was largely in the tunnel under the city that was duplicative with the subway. We could put hundreds of people to work, revive Lexington market and create real opportunity for marginalized populations in east and west Baltimore. Build a light rail that runs from Social Security to Lexington Market and then from John Hopkins Hospital to Bayview down to Sparrows Point. We have a viable subway system; make it part of a cohesive public transportation system. We will not move the needle on jobs and economic opportunity in Baltimore city unless we create a public transportation system that allows our citizens to get to those jobs.

5. Work with our foundations to create a loan guarantee fund for minority and early stage businesses working capital loans. The statistics on small business lending in Baltimore, especially loans to minority business, done by the 21st Century Cities Initiative at Johns Hopkins, point to a pathetic situation. The main impediment to business growth is lack of working capital to fund receivables and inventory. Banks have a hard time lending to small enterprises without collateral. The foundations in Baltimore should work hand in hand with our banks, particularly local community banks to create a loan pool for minority and small business working capital. The foundations would provide a back stop in the form of guarantees on the loans and share in the interest earned on the loans. It would produce investment earnings for foundations and acceptably risky loan growth for banks, and it would turbocharge minority business formation. The mayor needs to bring these groups together and say "it works in other cities, get it done here."

The federal government isn't going to fix our problem, and neither is Annapolis. We need to fix our problems by defining them as opportunities and creating a real plan using the strengths of our public, private and philanthropic sectors. It needs to be led by an activist Mayor Pugh. Let's cut crime and build a deeper tax base to fund our schools by creating inclusive employment opportunities in Baltimore, not expedient short term fixes.

David L. Warnock is founder and CEO of Camden Partners, a private equity firm in downtown Baltimore, is co-founder of Green Street Academy, a charter school in Baltimore and was a candidate for mayor in the 2016 Democratic primary. His email is dwarnock@camdenpartners.com.

Advertisement
Advertisement