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What does ‘local’ mean now for Baltimore company leaders?

Here's what keeps these 5 companies invested in the city and region, and why they think "Baltimore-based" applies despite some of them being fully remote.

The Baltimore harbor. (Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash)

This editorial article is a part of What Local Means Now Month of's 2022 editorial calendar.

What does it mean to be a Baltimore company?

Is it about how many people the company employs from the city? Where it’s headquartered? Where it was founded? Is it a company culture thing?

Before the pandemic, the answer was simple: A company’s office was in the geographic bounds of the city, and 90% of the employees woke up and went to work there, regardless of where they laid their heads at night. Now, a company can have hundreds of employees and more than half distributed across the country, or only have about a quarter of the company work in Baltimore. The city doesn’t get those income taxes, or even sales taxes from the work lunch.

The digital age allows for a national, even global reach. Before the pandemic, that mostly only applied to the consumer side; now, it applies to the business and hiring sides as well. Staff can work from almost anywhere. It’s more acceptable for a headquarters to be nonexistent, for staff to primarily meet on Zoom.

So, again: What does it mean to be a Baltimore-based company? Especially when all the functions, services and employees are remote and don’t use or need Baltimore’s geographic benefits?

This reporter talked to heads of multiple companies, all either fully remote or considering the majority of their employees remote, over the last month. I asked them, “What does it mean to be a Baltimore-based company?” and “Where do these company leaders see the city of Baltimore and the future of their companies intersect?”

‘Grit’ and other attitudes

For some, Baltimore is a vibe.

The Baltimore headquarters “will remain our anchor,” Darwin Stephenson, Apkudo’s chief innovation officer, told during an interview about the company’s recent $14.4 million funding round raise. “But, as we expand, it’s really about where these devices go.”

“I think our corporate culture, grit and what we stand for, the workforce we’re trying to develop, has strong ties to Baltimore,” said cofounder and CEO Evan Dornbush of cybersecurity talent training company Point3 Security. The undeniably Baltimore-bred company started out at the ETC (Emerging Technology Centers) and now calls Mindhub in Locust Point its home. “You’re right [that] most of our employees are not in the city but it doesn’t matter because it’s the attitude that people are in control of their own destiny, and if you want something, you work for it and that work is rewarded.”

Michael Stump, CEO and founder of Baltimore IT consulting firm Holden Information Services, has employees in Howard and Montgomery counties, as well as Lexington Park down in southern Maryland. Although Stump considers Baltimore his home and doesn’t think that will ever change, he himself lives in Baltimore County. At the time we spoke, he was interviewing two candidates based in Detroit and Houston.

“We’re at a point now where your location is no longer a limiting factor for the opportunities that are available to you,” Stump said. “And I’m excited to try to take advantage of that. I think it’ll be cool to have a presence bigger than just the Baltimore area.”

Life sciences as a magnet

Baltimore has been seeing a decline in population, unlike other major mid-Atlantic cities like Philadelphia, DC and New York. The life sciences industry is one of the strongest, bringing businesses into Baltimore and keeping them here.

Kavi Misri, CEO of Baltimore-based mental healthcare company Rose Health, sees the company hiring and expanding in Baltimore after a recent $7.5 million Series A round because of the local medical talent and expertise needed to fill the company’s client success and clinical teams. It is currently fully remote, with employees in Jacksonville, Florida, Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago; Rose himself is based nearby in DC. Clinical teams that need to work in person, in a lab, are the types of teams that make place matter.

“The way that we see it is where we get the support, and we’re really intertwined within the community of Baltimore,” Misri said. Rose Health spun out of Johns Hopkins, with stints developing in the university’s Hexcite and Social Innovation Lab accelerators, and still has an office at Fast Forward U in Remington. “When we look at potential partners and we look at ways we can grow with other companies, we’re so much more well-networked in Baltimore given the Hopkins background.”

Maryland’s reputation as part of the BioHealth Capital Region is also a strength of Baltimore’s. The city additionally benefits from the boom of biotech manufacturing in Maryland, as well as the National Institutes of Health and federal labs that live along the I-270 corridor known as DNA Valley.  Companies like Astek Diagnostics value the expertise that lives in that corridor, and as the company grows with an $850,000 funding round, the talent from this area are priority hires.

Yes, place still matters

In this and related industries, place must be tied to a company, because the work can’t be done remotely.

“That sense of place is changing, certainly, but it’s not going to go away 100%, and it can’t,” Marty Rosendale, CEO of the economic development-focused Maryland Tech Council, told “Because you always have to manufacture things.”

Maybe the things being manufactured are medical innovations, like chairs for the neurodivergent. Regardless, manufacturing is one answer to the question of how to physically place Baltimore-based companies’ employees in Baltimore.

All these companies have strong ties to Baltimore and value them. The question of what, as they grow, will turn those ties to roots still remains.

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Companies: Astek Diagnostics / Rose Health / Point3 Security / Maryland Tech Council / Apkudo
Series: What Local Means Now Month 2022

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