The Time cover story of August 24, 1981, featured James Rouse and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor; its title proclaimed, “Cities are Fun.” For Baltimore’s spectacular development of its inner harbor and other dramatic redevelopment efforts, the city was hailed as one of the most innovative cities in America. From around the world, urban officials flocked to Baltimore to learn the secret of the city’s economic development success story.
The cornerstone of Baltimore’s economic development program during the 1970s and 1980s was its ability to leverage federal, state, and private sector resources. Federal programs like the Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG), Urban Renewal, and the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) helped the city to build a new downtown, establish a tourism industry, and begin crucial inner city neighborhood revitalization. With Federal Economic Development Administration funding, the city worked aggressively to aid industries through outreach initiatives and business park development. Small Business Administration opportunities were exploited to offer an array of financing pro grams for business. Department of Labor resources helped to make critical employment and training linkages. In addition, state programs were tapped and city bonds were floated to help meet local requirements. Whenever possible, private sector participation was encouraged, creating what are now known as public private partnerships.
Today, federal resources are scarce and Baltimore, like other cities, struggles to fund economic development activities in light of other pressing needs. But unlike other cities that have managed to acquire public funds and put them to work in job creating programs, Baltimore spends little of the federal funds that are available on job-creating and tax-producing economic development activities. Largely because of this decision, Baltimore in the 1990s lags behind its urban counterparts through out the country in local economic development spending and initiatives. This lost opportunity costs the city taxes and jobs, further stagnating an already perilous local economy.