Editor’s note: The following commentary appeared on CenterMaryland.org on July 1, 2016.
If you live in the Baltimore region or most likely anywhere in the state, chances are that you are well aware that Baltimore’s image has taken it on the chin. The tragic death of Freddie Gray, the ensuing civil unrest, and the criminal trials in connection with the Gray incident have all been an unfortunate negative drumbeat.
For some who don’t know the city, the images of buildings on fire, street marches, and indicted police officers going into court replayed over and over on CNN and other 24/7 news broadcasts confirmed that the Baltimore area was indeed the hard-edged city depicted in the HBO TV crime drama series, The Wire.
But for those who live in the city and the region and know its many riches, Baltimore is not The Wire.
Sure, like any big metro region it has its share of challenges. But an argument can be made that these challenges have been overplayed by national press reporters.
Many people suggest that a major national advertising campaign would rebuild Baltimore’s image. It’s not a bad idea – but it would be costly and require a long-term sustained public relations effort.
Another way to raise the region’s profile is old-fashioned word of mouth communication. In fact, as any seasoned ad executive will tell you, word of mouth advertising – testimonials – can be an effective marketing strategy. Someone you trust shares a story or an interesting fact about a person or place and you begin to look at things differently.
With this is mind, let me suggest to all those planning to travel outside the area for summer vacations or excursions that you print out or bookmark this list of attributes that Baltimore has going for it.
When someone starts to talk about the civil unrest or The Wire at a social outing politely interrupt, pull out the list and sing Baltimore’s praises.
- When it comes to bright minds, the Baltimore area shines. The Baltimore metro region is one of the top areas of the country when it comes to residents who are highly-educated, according to data compiled by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. More than 35 percent of Baltimore metro residents have a college degree or higher. That is almost equal to the New York City metro area. Out of 1o0 metro areas studied by Brookings, Baltimore ranked No. 14.
- Know someone who loves to dine out or try new cuisine and innovative recipes? Then the Baltimore region is their kind of place. It’s not your grandfather’s crab cake and “Natty Boh” beer kind of town any longer – although that is still an asset. A plethora of savvy entrepreneurs have opened hot new restaurants. And culinary innovation seems to be popping up everywhere – from Harbor East to Towson and beyond. Restaurant owners and chefs Spike Gjerde and Cindy Wolf are just a few of the Baltimore names regarded nationally these days in top culinary circles. Zagat ranked Baltimore No.2 on the 2015 list of top food cities. Thrillist ranked Baltimore at the top of its list of “The 7 Most Underrated Food Cities in 2015.” According to USA Today “Baltimore is on the A-list for aficionados of fine eats, fussy foodies and everyone else who knows a great meal from a good meal.”
- Baltimore is welcoming and embracing innovation and entrepreneurial activity. To some observers the entrepreneurial energy in the area seems more robust than in recent years. Granted, the Baltimore area is not Silicon Valley. But for start-ups and entrepreneurs it is also a lot more affordable. The area is also close to federal research labs and other resources in Washington, D.C. Shared “maker spaces,” such as City Garage in Port Covington and Betamore in Federal Hill, are buzzing with start-up companies, entrepreneurial ideas and cross-company collaboration. Betamore estimates that about 100 start-ups have opened since 2012, creating jobs and economic activity. At the University of Maryland BioPark and the Johns Hopkins Science + Technology Park young medical, technology and other companies are taking root, driven by bright researchers at both institutions. Combined, this activity is helping to fuel an entrepreneurial spirit that is at full throttle.
- Baltimore has become a magnet for Millennials – it’s one of the top 10 cities in the country when it comes to population growth in the 25- to 34-year-old generation, according to The Christian Science Monitor. Millennials are attracted to Baltimore for a number of reasons. Housing affordability, urban authenticity, a lively arts and culture scene, and access to good jobs for educated professionals are top draws for Baltimore, the magazine proclaimed.
- Another positive trend: Investors, drawn in part by a city tax credit, are converting office space to upscale apartments. This has triggered a wave of office-to-apartment conversion projects in the downtown core and elsewhere. These new urban residences are attracting young and old alike that prefer to be close to the culture, entertainment and other charms the city offers.
- Capital investment is flowing into the city and the region for a number of potentially transformative development or redevelopment projects. These include:
- The redevelopment by TradePoint Atlantic of the former 3,100 acre Bethlehem Steel site in Sparrows Point into a major logistics, distribution and advanced manufacturing center on the East Coast.
- The proposed bold redevelopment of Port Covington by Sagamore Development into a mixed-use area that will reshape the Baltimore skyline. The project, if fully approved, will include a new campus headquarters for Under Armour, residences, businesses, waterfront public parks and thousands of new jobs.
- The redevelopment of a former 27-acre waterfront industrial site between Fells Point and Harbor East, called Harbor Point. New office towers are rising on the land, including a headquarters for energy-giant Exelon. About 1,000 new residences, a hotel and retailers are planned as well.
- The development of 12 acres of waterfront land in the Canton area of Baltimore by Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) will include a million square feet of office space, new retails shops, restaurants, residences and hotel rooms.
By sharing these and other positive trends and attributes in the Baltimore region this summer, we might just help get the region’s image headed in the right trajectory. And that’s right where it belongs.
Donald C. Fry is President & CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a frequent contributor to Center Maryland.