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Baltimore’s new economic development plan hopes to achieve equity

“The goal was to take a much larger, (more) comprehensive view of what economic development is and also to really include a lot more partners and people in this effort,” said BDC President & CEO Colin Tarbert. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Equality and inclusion are front and center in the Baltimore Development Corporation’s latest economic development plan, which is currently accepting public feedback. 

The plan, entitled Baltimore Together: A Platform for Inclusive Prosperity, has been in the works since 2019 but was stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Regions are required to submit an economic development plan, called a CEDS, or Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, to the U.S. Economic Development Administration approximately every five years to continue benefiting from EDA funds. 

This is the second CEDS for which BDC has led the development; prior to that, the city’s planning department was responsible for the process.  

But Baltimore Together, currently a 66-page draft that outlines research into the current state of Baltimore’s economy and goals moving forward, is different from past CEDS plans, according to BDC’s President and CEO Colin Tarbert. 

“The goal was to take a much larger, (more) comprehensive view of what economic development is and also to really include a lot more partners and people in this effort,” he said.  

Previous plans took a more “basic” approach to economic development, Tarbert said, focusing on factors like which industry sectors were expected to grow in the city. While those elements factor into the Baltimore Together plan, it also looks more broadly at how to fix systemic issues in Baltimore’s economy — especially those that disenfranchise minority workers and business owners — and set the city on a long-term path to success. 

The plan focuses on seven key goals for Baltimore: 

  • Achieving a “truly equitable economy,” which includes closing racial gaps in income, employment, business ownership and access to capital gaps; 
  • Building on the city’s existing assets to become a leader in industries that are already growing in Baltimore; 
  • Uplifting the city’s innovators and small businesses by expanding access to support and capital, especially for businesses owned by residents of the city, Black people and other people of color, women and immigrants; 
  • Building a stronger workforce system through things like apprenticeship programs;
  • Increasing Baltimore’s population;
  • Working to attract tourists and visitors in order to bolster the hospitality sector, which was heavily impacted by COVID-19; 
  • Reinvesting in Baltimore’s neighborhoods.

It also describes the metrics by which these goals will be evaluated and identifies key strategies for achieving them. 

The plan also stands out from past ones because of BDC’s focus on including the public in the planning process, Tarbet said.  

On top of the process through which the plan was developed — over 300 people and 12 work groups participated in the project — BDC is currently soliciting public comments about the draft of the plan. People have until the end of the month to submit feedback directly on the document, and a finalized version will be submitted to the EDA next month.  

“I’d be interested in getting feedback on what people don’t think is in the document,” such as if they feel any important industry sectors are missing from the plan, Tarbert said.  

He also wants to hear from individuals and organizations about how they want to contribute to the work laid out in the plan.  

“This isn’t a BDC plan … this is a citywide, and most likely as it evolves, it will be a regional plan, so we need people to step up and lead portions of this effort if we’re going to be successful,” he said. 

A CEDS is usually submitted every five years, but Tarbert hopes that the work BDC and others have done on Baltimore Together will become an ongoing part of BDC’s work over the next five years, reporting on their execution on the plan at least annually. There is also now a Baltimore Together site that will be used to post updates and information. 

“It’s basically taking what we did before, times 10, and also committing to make it actionable over the next five years and reporting (our progress),” he said.