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Will City Residents Be Hired For Harbor Point Jobs?

Elkus Manfredi Architects / courtesy of Beatty Development

Harbor Point is another in a long series of projects in which a private developer seeks subsidies from the city while dangling the carrot of jobs brought to the city.

In this case, developer Michael Beatty is seeking $107 million in city financing for the project on the eastern edge of the Inner Harbor. Baltimore officials say the project, which will include a 23-story regional headquarters for Exelon, the energy giant that bought Constellation, will create more than 7,000 construction jobs and more than 9,000 permanent jobs. A city council committee has scheduled a hearing on the proposal Wednesday evening.

But Matthew Crenson, political science professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins University, says these types of deals have yet to pay off in the promised jobs. Crenson says it’s impossible to prove whether the city would be worse off if all of these types of developments did not take place.

According to Crenson, Baltimore City has lost a fourth or more of its jobs since 1970 and the composition of the workforce has changed in that time.

“A disproportionate number of the jobs that were lost were in manufacturing,” he says.

“A disproportionate number of the jobs we have today are in the service sector and wages in manufacturing are significantly higher on the average than wages in the service sector.”

Harbor Place, built on part of a city park, brought some 1000 jobs when it opened in 1980, mostly going to city residents.

According to the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, 80 percent of the 352 people hired to work at the city-owned Hilton Hotel when it opened in 2008 were city residents. Rosalind Howard, business services manager for the agency, says city officials and contractors at the time had an understanding that a majority of work available would go to city residents.

The Horseshoe Casino, which is being built with private money, reportedly will generate 2,000 construction jobs and 1,700 permanent jobs. City officials say they expect to meet hiring goals similar to the Hilton for that project.

Yet Crenson warns that businesses looking to move to the city are primarily interested in whether a qualified work force is available.

“If you’re an employer that pays reasonably high wages, you’re probably going to require a workforce that’s reasonably well educated.  Under current circumstances, Baltimore City may not be ready to provide those kinds of employees.”

Baltimore Development Corporation President Brenda McKenzie says Harbor Point developer Beatty has reached out to local contractors and city residents. She says her agency is looking at ways to prepare residents to qualify for the available jobs.

“We’re open as a whole to doing what we need to do to make sure that not only there’s an opportunity for growth here in the city but that folks who live in the city have the ability to participate fully in that opportunity,” McKenzie says.

The mayor’s office of employment development is still awaiting details on how it will play a role in hiring city residents for jobs at Harbor Point.