Attorney and Baltimore native Alicia Wilson, a senior vice president for economic development at Johns Hopkins, leads efforts to drive investment from the city’s largest employer to initiatives benefiting surrounding communities.
Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, Wilson already played a prominent role in shaping Baltimore’s future. As a member of the Port Covington development team she led efforts to hammer out community benefits agreements steering millions of dollars to city neighborhoods. Those agreements were instrumental in the city granting the $5.5 billion Port Covington development $660 million in city infrastructure financing.
She spoke with The Daily Record as part of a series of interviews aimed at continuing the conversations started during the newspaper’s “Young, Black, Homegrown and Leading in Baltimore” webinar. The interview below has been edited for clarity and space.
WATCH VIDEO: Interview with Alicia Wilson
The Daily Record: You’re a native of Baltimore. Tell me a little bit about how that’s informed your views of the city and how that journey has influenced how you do your job?
Alicia Wilson: Sure, you know, being a homegrown Baltimorean has certainly impacted my vision for the city, also my understanding of … the issues that are confronted by residents throughout the city.
I think my level of empathy for the complexities of challenges faced by young people who live in our inner city, as well as observing the challenges faced by parents, and teachers, and understanding the complexity of that helps to inform the way that I do my work, and recognizing that while the challenges aren’t that simple, neither are the solutions that simple.
TDR: How would you describe the current state of Baltimore? How would you describe where we are right now as a city?
AW: I think that Baltimore is sort of like an individual … that’s a good, good, good person, like a really good person at their heart, has a charming demeanor, but is imperfect, and has things that it must work on.
TDR: There’s no single solution to the problems that are facing Baltimore. That being said, what potential fixes do you feel need to be prioritized because of their potential impact on correcting the flaws that are inherent within the city?
AW: One, I think the challenges with crime remain a persistent one. I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say that wasn’t something, just as a resident, that keeps me up at night.
… And when I say that I say a small and persistent (group), right. The vast, vast, vast majority of people are law-abiding progressive, positive people.
TDR: What role does economic development play in improving the lives of citizens in this city? And what responsibility does Hopkins have in improving economic development in Baltimore, particularly for Black residents who are disproportionately disadvantaged in town?
AW: A couple of things, one Hopkins is the largest employer (in the city). It is a world-class institution in this city. I will always, 100%, always say that when you have the largest employer, and you have an engine like that the biggest contribution that Hopkins can (make) is to employ city residents. That’s bar none, right?
I think the second thing is to think through how our real estate moves, how our buying, our procurement, our investing of our endowment, how is that impactful? And how are we sort of, in many ways, squeezing the most out of those opportunities to allow for there to be catalytic results? Not just us, but for those who are in partnership with us, but also those who really, in many ways, are impacted by the decisions we make behind the wall.
TDR: When we’re talking about addressing any of the imbalances in Baltimore, whether it’s education, the court system, employment, the elephant in the room is always race. What more can people in the private sector, both in business and nonprofit, do to provide, not just roles for people of color in their systems, but allow for leadership positions?
AW: I will say it, it might be controversial, might not be that controversial, I don’t think any institution is thriving if you are showing me their roster of leadership and it lacks diversity. I just don’t think that organization is sound. I think there’s something wrong.
The second thing I would say is that some of the work around diversity and inclusion, and ensuring that black folks, and other minorities, are within places of leadership, means that we have to first look within our organizations, and really be thoughtful about what is preventing people from assuming leadership roles, and being very honest about that.
Professional: Vice President of Economic Development for Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health System. Previously was Senior Vice President of Impact Investments and Senior Legal Counsel to the Port Covington Development Team and as a partner at the downtown Baltimore law firm of Gordon Feinblatt.
Education: MERVO High School; B.A. from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and juris doctor from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.
Personal: Under 40, has “tons of godchildren and mentees, loves games, fishing and community service.