Baltimore is in transition from a manufacturing hub to a knowledge center, and on Wednesday, five industry players and elected officials talked about the economic impact of technology on the area, in both the present and the future.
The forum, held at the University of Maryland BioPark in Hollins Market, included state Sen. Bill Ferguson, new Baltimore Development Corporation President Bill Cole, AOL Networks Vice President Eliza Nevers, City Councilman Nick Mosby, and Seawall Development founder Thibault Manekin. The panel was moderated by Sheri Parks, associate professor of American studies at the University of Maryland. The event was part of Baltimore Innovation Week.
"How do we get people to see Baltimore as a mini Silicon Valley?"
“[The University of Maryland, Baltimore] and Hopkins, what they’re doing on both sides of the city is creating this amazing growth in startup companies,” said Cole, a former city councilman who was recently appointed to lead the BDC. “I’ve said repeatedly that Baltimore’s on the launching pad — and we are. We need to find a way to harness it and that’s happening.”
Ferguson spoke of a ship repair business — something that was, and is, in high demand in Baltimore — that started an online side-project that grew into Maryland Nautical, an online clearinghouse for nautical maps and books
“It is about three times the revenue of their ship repair business,” Ferguson said. “Their entire business model has now shifted from ship repair to now selling nautical maps all over the world.”
Nevers, who works in part out of AOL/Advertising.com’s Tide Point offices, said AOL employs many people attracted from outside the city, and spoke of the need to foster a more diverse workforce.
“Every other week we’ve got women in technology or the mobile meetup or all these different things,” she said. “We are going to D.C. and New York and bringing people to Baltimore. How do we get people to see Baltimore as a mini Silicon Valley? Healthcare is a huge sector, education [as well], but technology too.”
Several on the panel noted that many of the pedestrians walking by would not have been there a decade ago, before the BioPark opened. Manekin spoke of the need to make sure the new developments are spread out.
“You’ll see the spillover effect within five years of all these little things popping up,” Manekin said.
Every bit as crucial as putting them in the right place, Cole said, is keeping them in Baltimore.
“When they graduate from [the Emerging Technology Centers], we have to keep them here,” Cole said. “We don’t want them to go to some office park in White Marsh or Howard County. No disrespect … but keeping them here makes us a better city.”
Cole advocated incentives to help startups grow and stay in the city, and pointed to programs like Live Baltimore that offer tax credits encouraging employees to call the city home.