Center Maryland: Will Baltimore join the “Global City” elite?

Editor’s note: The following commentary appeared on on July 10, 2015.

By Donald C. Fry

Will Baltimore be the next city to crack the “Global Cities” list that has caught the attention of economists, politicians and civic leaders?

“What’s a global city?” you ask. In short, it’s an urban area considered to be a vital link in the global economic system, as measured by business activity, human capital, cultural amenities, information networks and political influence.

In other words it’s an Alpha city. It’s got clout. Think New York, London and Paris. They’re the three top Global Cities, according to the closely watched A.T. Kearney Global Cities Index.

But we are nearing a pivot point as globalization accelerates.

As a result, Baltimore must be positioned to take advantage of this changing world dynamic so it can emerge as a city with a greater diversity of global business connections and reach.

What’s at stake? Plenty. Not just the Baltimore economy, but the entire regional economy and its future job and income growth.

The Greater Baltimore Committee is committed to pointing the Baltimore region and its diverse economy toward the changing world economic stage. We need more of our businesses to find it easier and beneficial to export products or services.

Some early findings from a business survey and other research conducted this spring by the GBC, in collaboration with the Brookings Institution, hint at pockets of real strength that the region can leverage in this quest.

These include:

  • Prime geographic location on the U.S. East Coast.
  • A thriving port and transportation connectivity.
  • An educated workforce, with 35 percent having a Bachelor of Arts degree or higher.
  • Key vital industries, including government, health care, and professional or technical services.
  • “Anchor” employers that include top hospitals, universities and military institutions.

Early this year, Brookings selected Baltimore as one of eight regions in the U.S. to be part of its Global Cities Initiative. The five-year old project aims to help leaders in select U.S. metropolitan areas reorient their economies toward greater engagement in world markets. In short, become Global Cities.

Later this month, GBC members will join representatives from the other cities selected by Brookings to compare notes and discuss initial research findings. After that meeting in Salt Lake City, the GBC will conduct additional research. The goal is to develop a strategic plan that hopefully will guide the Baltimore region so it can better tap the accelerating globalization of trade and business activity.

As some of the initial survey findings show, encouraging businesses in the region to take advantage of exporting will require companies to think out of the box when it comes to exports, for one. Too often, businesses don’t see themselves with an exportable product.

Traditionally people generally think of exports as tangible products, such as medical supplies, athletic apparel or food.

But knowledge and services such as education, legal advice, medical training and computer or other technical expertise can also be exported, thanks in large part to the growing power of the Internet and new emerging communications technologies.

So a key to gaining “Global Cities” stature will be identifying and tapping those strengths that can be parlayed into new export opportunities – and growth in the region’s existing exports.

Also, as we know from economists, the vast majority of economic growth in the next five to ten years will occur outside the borders of the United States. Additionally, export growth for the U.S. won’t come from traditional targets like Europe. Future growth lies in China, other parts of Asia and Latin America. So businesses in the Baltimore region have to be educated about these emerging markets, what products and services they most need and what steps they need to take to effectively expand their market reach beyond the United States. That’s where the real growth potential lies especially for small and medium size businesses.

We have more work hard ahead with the Global Cities Initiative so we can develop a clearly defined strategy. But as we ready for Salt Lake City, there seems to be a lot in the Baltimore region’s court to build on so we can emerge as the next great Global City.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee and chairman of the Hire One Youth initiative. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.  

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