September 27, 2020
Nevins & Associates President and CEO, David Nevins, sat down with Don Fry, former state legislator and President/CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC.) They discussed the GBC’s past and present projects, the impact of COVID-19 on businesses and more. Below is a condensed version of their conversation:
DN: The Greater Baltimore Committee is celebrating its 65th anniversary. Tell me about the founding of the GBC and some of its initial projects/goals?
DF: The Greater Baltimore Committee was formed on Jan. 5, 1955 by 83 prominent Baltimore City business leaders with the goal of creating an action oriented organization of business leaders to apply private sector influence and resources in order to accomplish key initiatives in Baltimore. At the time of its formation, they tackled issues such as the decaying central city, tax revenue, declining property values and more. The founders wanted the GBC to be a committee that took prompt and aggressive action when addressing issues, as well as being a problem solving organization.
One of the GBC’s initial projects was the construction of a “civic center” for conferences, conventions and concerts, originally the Baltimore Civic Center, which we know today as the Royal Farms Arena. Some of the GBC’s other projects were similar to economic growth projects that we are accustomed to today such as promoting the growth of the Port of Baltimore and Friendship Airport, what we know now as Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. At the time, Friendship Airport was owned by the City of Baltimore before being sold to the state of Maryland.
Ultimately, the GBC focus moved to projects around Baltimore’s waterfront like the Inner Harbor. Today we’re working on a number of projects, in particular we’re evaluating the workforce in this region and making sure that we develop a workforce with the education and skill set that can meet the growing economy and industry sectors over the next decade.
DN: The coronavirus pandemic has impacted all of us individually and also involves our business operations. What impact have you seen in the business community? What permanent changes to business or business operations will likely be seen? How is the outcome of the pandemic going to affect government and its delivery of services – education, public safety, etc.?
DF: From a GBC organizational perspective, we stopped working in the office as a group in mid-March, currently 50% of our employees are now back in the office as allowed by Baltimore City regulations.
The key word for all of us has been “pivot”, we’ve had to pivot with a lot of our activities. Much of our work is done by employees of GBC member companies who participate on committees. These committee meetings are now conducted via Zoom. Fortunately, committee attendance is still strong. Also, remote meetings have allowed us the opportunity to tap in to subject matter experts from outside of Maryland to participate in the meetings. Previously, with calendar pressures, that would be very difficult.
From a financial perspective, the GBC depends on the support from our members. We’ve done well in retaining membership dues. The most significant change has been with events. On a yearly basis, we host a number of in-person events including an Annual Meeting that attracts close to a thousand attendees. Currently, these events have been transformed into virtual events. The event income helps to fund our programmatic activities so we are carefully watching to see to seeing how our virtual events turn out. Again, on the upside of converting to virtual events, we have some great opportunities to bring people in from different parts of the country to talk about their experiences and expertise.
How business operations among the broader business community will be impacted is still unknown. Most are still working remotely. Many businesses have realized that they can successfully operate remotely, many employees enjoy working remotely, and for some businesses that could become the new normal. The pandemic has led many business owners to re-evaluate the office space needs of their company. Fortunately for businesses, whenever there is change, opportunities are presented as well.
DN: As a former state legislator and one who has been engaged with government covering 4 decades how has government changed and how has the relationship between business and government changed?
DF: From my days as a legislator, there’s always been a good relationship between business and government. There is a healthy level of skepticism on each side. Business leaders are accustomed to seeing quicker action taken on a problem. Meanwhile, elected officials often don’t feel that business appreciates the multiple interests that are confronted with in finding solutions to overarching problems. But both sides have respect for other and the important role that each plays.
I was attracted to the GBC because it was never an organization that just said no. When the GBC disagreed with legislators, it always wanted to work with them to find solutions that did not negatively impact businesses. As a legislator that was important and helpful to me. At the GBC, we focus on partnering with government when there is the opportunity to do so. We previously brought together 250 volunteer business executives to look at five Baltimore City agencies to provide recommendations to help improve delivery of service and to reduce cost. The agencies adopted about 75% of those recommendations. That type of partnership relationship helps because when the time comes where you disagree on policy decisions, you’re not looked upon as an adversary, but as one who has been a partner. A lesson that we learned over time is that government is not a business, but it can be run more like one.
DN: Anything the GBC is working on that you want people to know about?
DF: As I mentioned we are about to release a regional workforce development report. We’re looking at the industry sectors in the region that are expected to grow in the next decade and evaluating what is needed to ensure the right size workforce exists to meet those demands and that workers have the education and skills needed to meet industry needs. This has been a major effort for the last year and a half. We have a strong set of findings, observations and recommendations that will provide a roadmap for addressing those challenges and we look forward to implementing the report to provide a strong regional workforce for our future.
To read the full Q&A, visit the citybizlist website.