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Through innovation and entrepreneurship, Baltimore is a city on the move

Recently, my university was asked to co-host an international conference that will bring to Baltimore several hundred educators, business experts and others devoted to strengthening the ties between higher education and entrepreneurship. The organizers said they chose Baltimore because they recognize our potential as a “surge city,” an ideal place to start and grow a business.

To some, this sounds great. But to others — those who wonder whether this city has a bright future ahead of it — the idea seems too grand. For me, a relative newcomer with less than a decade of working in Baltimore, I can tell you this: Our town is on the move. You should join us now or miss out on some enormously positive changes.

From what I’ve seen, I strongly believe that there are forward-thinking people living here who have the city’s revival burning in their hearts. They are ready to roll up their sleeves and offer their expertise to create the renaissance we are collectively seeking. The talent in this town is awe-inspiring. So, what are we waiting for? There’s no time like the present to act on the things we know to be true.

Here are four points that Baltimore’s leaders should consider:

  • Baltimore, like any number of older American cities, is poised to come out of the pandemic with impressive growth and development. Urbanist Richard Florida, author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” told attendees at the Downtown Partnership’s annual meeting that the city is a “distinguished global startup hub,” drawing hundreds of millions in venture funds. What’s our hook? We’re situated in a dense corridor that boasts 50 million residents, with a global finance hub on one end, a powerful federal government on the other, and dozens of universities and thousands of innovative thinkers and doers dotting the megalopolis in-between.
  • While we’ve been losing commercial traffic in the downtown business district, other parts of town are ramping up for significant growth. This is a temporary problem; e.g., renew the area around the Inner Harbor, and people will come back. It’s cyclical.
  • The 2020 U.S. Census revealed that Baltimore’s population is falling, and overall employment growth is lagging. Worth noting is that Baltimore City’s entrepreneurial community and small business sectors continue to exhibit strength. According to census data, over the pre-pandemic recovery period (2009-19), new businesses accounted for more than half (56 percent) of the city’s net private sector job growth. The city’s vibrant small business community—defined as less than 20 employees—accounted for 34 percent of job growth. Tapping into and supporting this entrepreneurial strength is the key to revitalizing Baltimore.
  • We’re figuring out who we are as a city. Yes, it’s taken us a long time to get there. But the local business community isn’t lamenting the loss of well-known, Fortune 500 companies. They’re tuned in to a smarter, more sustainable future: small- to medium-sized companies, some manufacturing, some transportation, some tech, and some health What’s more, it all depends largely on local talent. Remember that 50 million residents figure I mentioned earlier? Comes in handy when you’re working hard to renew your city.

Of these four points, I urge you to focus most closely on that last one. We are, indeed, poised to renew Baltimore. The time for worrying about our future, chalking up losses and not balancing them out with gains, is over. We see how much local brain power and creatively there is. We have some of the best high schools, colleges and universities in the country, right here in town. We have 26 coworking spaces, more than 16 business incubators, and 60 federal research labs, all within a 30-mile radius. Let’s make these qualities the very foundation of this period of renewal.

And let’s do one more thing: We need to consistently think of ourselves, the people of Baltimore, as successful entrepreneurs. We have a voice, an attitude, and we’re optimistic to a fault. Our vision is clear and original, and people want to be like us, and live where we live.

That brings me back to the conference I mentioned, which offers more evidence that big changes are coming to Baltimore: On Oct. 13-16, The University of Baltimore and Loyola University Maryland will host the 2021 Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers’ annual meeting. The event’s theme, “Leading with Entrepreneurship: Succeeding in Revitalization,” will show how higher education and entrepreneurs are leading the way to create the new companies that transform communities.

Baltimore offers a broad, vibrant, close-knit entrepreneurial ecosystem that is bolstering the city’s ongoing revival. The conference is a great opportunity, not only for the two universities but also for the region’s business community, to showcase our success.

If it’s true that it takes an outsider to remind you when you’re doing well, then hear this: What’s it going to take to make Baltimore great? It’s us.

Murray Dalziel is dean of the Merrick School of Business at the University of Baltimore. His email is [email protected]