Professional Development

3 key takeaways from Baltimore leaders’ chat on the city’s best digital future

Local tech leaders and government officials discussed the future of Baltimore's tech ecosystem and digital future during a virtual panel held by Baltimore Tracks.

Baltimore Tracks is working toward a more diverse tech workforce.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Earlier this week, leading denizens of Baltimore’s tech ecosystem joined city officials to discuss the best strategies for an equitable and vibrant digital future.

The discussion took place during a panel titled “Building Baltimore’s Digital Future,” which was held by the digital equity coalition Baltimore Tracks. Members of the group spoke about these issues with Deputy Mayor of Community and Economic Development Ted Carter, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Broadband and Digital Equity Jason Hardebeck and Director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development Jason Perkins-Cohen.

Here are a few key points and proposals from their broad conversation:

City programs for businesses and residents to onboard people into tech

The city of Baltimore will pay for the first year of an apprenticeship program through the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. The city also offers a $6000 tax credit for new each hire that resides in the city.

“It can never be train and pray,” Perkins-Cohen said during the panel. The best way to build a pipeline into tech for residents, he added, is to work with local companies to create the training programs that lead into hires.

Perkins-Cohen also said he hopes to pull a committee of tech businesses together to design programs and consult with community colleges, as well as other educational resources, on the skills that need to be taught to build the desired tech workforce.

Government bureaucracy is an issue, but the city is working to bridge the gaps

“There are good reasons why bureaucracy exists, but it’s not designed to allow us to move quickly,” Hardebeck said on the panel.

Companies often worry about apprenticeship credit approval, not to mention the time it takes for city processes to account for the speed at which tech companies train and operate. A tech industry apprenticeship could be done in as little as 30 days, while government approval processes have to go through theĀ  Department of Labor and state government before trickling down to the city.

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In other words: The process is, unfortunately, the process.

Luckily, the time constraint on American Rescue Plan Act dollars can entice the city to act more swiftly on such programs; Otherwise, the money gets sent back to the federal treasury.

Plans for the future

Toward the end of the panel, the conversation revolved around ways to attract new residents to Baltimore while staying faithful to legacy residents.

Sherrod Davis, cofounder of Baltimore Tracks member company EcoMap Technologies, cited Tulsa, Oklahoma’s $10,000 relocation stipend as an example of a model to attract residents.

Hardebeck said that Baltimore can be a model for internet connectivity. For instance, if the city creates municipality-owned fiber to the premise network, it can offer cities across the nation an example to follow.

“We’ve talked about for years what’s missing in Baltimore,” said Hardebeck. “We have proximity to the largest customers in the world, the best institutions of higher learning. We have everything. I think what we’re starting to see now is [that] what we really need to do is create truly equitable opportunity for all.”

Check out the full panel below:

 


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. -30-
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