Charles Monk: The year ahead for the GBC

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Hundreds of the region’s business leaders gathered Tuesday evening at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore Inner Harbor Hotel for the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Annual Meeting. Here are the prepared remarks of GBC Chairman Charles O. Monk II, the Managing Partner, Baltimore of Saul Ewing:

As Don Fry emphasized, the work of the Greater Baltimore Committee is an extension of its mission as an “action” and problem-solving organization of business and civic leaders.

So, what do we see as important, fresh GBC priorities for the coming year and beyond? Where do we see opportunities to apply our energy, resources, and influence?

Our efforts in 2010-2011 will focus on the GBC’s two-pronged legacy:
o First, influencing public policy – applying our collective talents to find ways to effecting positive change and solving problems;
o Second, nurturing significant capital projects – the kind of bricks and mortar projects the GBC has historically championed that dramatically impact our economy and quality of life.

The Policy Arena
Strengthening Maryland’s competitive edge.

o If the recession has taught us anything, it’s reminded us all that business – not government – ultimately drives Maryland’s economy and our state’s fiscal health.
o The GBC, in partnership with Loyola’s Sellinger School of Business and with the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, is working on a comprehensive analysis of key components of a good business climate.
o We’re engaging economic developers and business leaders in a frank dialogue to identify core principles that define a competitive climate for economic growth in Maryland.
o The goal is to gain a private-sector consensus on elements that are essential for a competitive environment and use that consensus to impact public policy. We’ll promote it to elected leaders and work to build Maryland’s policies and economic development strategies around that consensus.
o When it comes to our state’s economic well-being, we must get beyond “seat of the pants” tactics and craft public policy around an informed strategy.

Funding Maryland’s transportation infrastructure
o Even before the recession, Maryland’s Transportation Trust Fund faced a $40 billion shortfall of highway, transit, port, and airport projects that are fully planned, but did not have $1 in construction money allocated to them.
o In the last five years, that shortfall has grown to at least $80 billion. Funding Maryland’s transportation infrastructure has emerged as one of the most compelling economic development challenges facing our state.
o A GBC task force that has been studying fiscal issues and transportation infrastructure will, in the early fall, issue a menu of options for strengthening Maryland’s transportation funding and governance. The GBC will work vigorously with state elected leaders to address this critical challenge.

Projects on the GBC’s radar
Let’s talk about potential “game changers”

The GBC has begun identifying short-term and long-term “game changing” initiatives to enhance the competitive strength of Baltimore and Maryland in measurable and compelling ways. Potential “game changer” projects that will demand the attention of the GBC over the next year are:

1) Reinvigorating the Inner Harbor. The Inner Harbor was itself Baltimore’s “game changer” when the GBC championed its development more than 30 years ago. It now attracts over 12 million visitors a year. The GBC and a number of Inner Harbor stakeholders are partnering to assess the Inner Harbor’s current strengths and challenges. The goal is to develop a unified vision for reinvigorating Baltimore’s premier waterfront asset and Maryland’s top travel destination.

2) Maglev development. The Baltimore-Washington corridor remains well-positioned to become the site of our nation’s first maglev project that would whisk passengers between the two cities in 18-minutes. The GBC will renew our efforts to move this transformational project onto federal and state front burners and to resolve key funding issues, including re-examining the potential to attract private investment to this project.

3) Another game changer that requires attention is converting Baltimore’s existing public parks, such as the Inner Harbor’s Rash Field, into world-class resources not just for tourists, but as highly enjoyable gathering places for residents of the city and the region.

4) Revitalizing Baltimore’s East Side Gateway.
Ten years ago, the GBC led the call for creating a new east-side Baltimore by developing a biopark there and revitalizing the neighborhood around it with residential and mixed-use development. The GBC raised $1 million to launch this transformational project on 80 acres north of the Johns Hopkins medical campus.

The east-side transformation is well underway, but a key supporting element of it remains to be addressed – the impact of the Amtrak rail line that runs through the neighborhood.

The Amtrak line, which is the gateway to Baltimore for thousands of rail travelers per day from the northeast U.S., poses a pair of significant challenges to east side.
o First, it serves to disguise to outsiders that the east side and Baltimore are on the rise. Rail travelers see only the mostly vacant and boarded houses -- many of them owned by the city -- that are right next to the track. They don’t see the full picture of the east side's current transformation. Nor do they see the many well-maintained and attractive residences in the area that typify the area's rebirth.
o Second, and most importantly, the Amtrak line itself detracts from the safety and quality of life for east side residents.

Railroad tracks are inherently noisy and dirty. Barriers are routinely built to enhance the quality of life, privacy and safety of neighborhoods that border our interstate highways. Yet nothing has been done to shield the residents of the city's east side from the noise, dirt and safety issues generated by dozens of trains that barrel through their neighborhood daily.

This is not a new problem, but it has been overlooked for too long. The city and Amtrak need to work collaboratively to support the east side revitalization and to create a rail gateway that enhances the neighborhood’s vitality and quality of life.

Also, two key Baltimore venues need to be upgraded. The GBC is reviewing options for building a new Baltimore Arena and expanding the Baltimore Convention Center. Both are important to Baltimore’s downtown vitality and its ability to attract millions of revenue-generating visitors to conventions and events here.

A constant GBC priority: delivering member value.

We never lose sight of the fact that the core elements of the GBC’s own ability to effect positive change are the people in this room tonight – you, our members.

The board and staff of the Greater Baltimore Committee remain committed to providing you with quality information resources, events and activities that greatly enhance your business development, interaction with business colleagues, and professional growth.

We thank you for your personal commitment to our work together to seize opportunities for tangible, meaningful, and positive change to our region’s business competitiveness and quality of life.

You, our members, are the reason that the Greater Baltimore Committee remains connected, relevant, and engaged.

For that, we applaud you and offer our sincere gratitude and look forward to a productive year ahead.
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