Donald Fry: Cultivating higher expectations in Baltimore

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By: Donald C. Fry 

Baltimore’s businesses and communities are “fighting a culture of low expectations,” says David Warnock, founder and chairman of the Warnock Foundation. “The fact of the matter is, Baltimore has got to believe in itself.”

Warnock, who is also a managing member of Camden Partners, a private equity firm, joined other Baltimore entrepreneurs Karl R. Gumtow, CEO of CyberPoint International, and Todd Marks, president and CEO of Mindgrub Technologies, as featured speakers at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s November 18 “Meet the Moguls” program on Innovation and Technology.

All delivered enthusiastic personal assessments of Baltimore as a terrific place to live and to grow a technology business, or any business for that matter. They unanimously and emphatically delivered one fundamental message: businesses that are here need to shout Baltimore’s story beyond our state’s border.

It’s critical to the Baltimore region’s businesses development that successful businesses, particularly small companies, collaborate and aggressively promote Baltimore City and the region as an ideal location for growing a business, they agreed.

Get Baltimore on a national stage in a positive way, Marks said. “Make noise from what’s happening here and bring business to Baltimore.” Marks cited major Baltimore assets that include a reasonable cost of living compared to New York and Philadelphia, world-class medical systems, “amazing” cyber resources, and a great entrepreneurial ecosystem. Marks said.

“The number one thing is we have to work together,” Gumtow said. “Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods and the neighborhoods don’t necessarily work together. Even entrepreneurs – we have entrepreneurs that are in Federal Hill, in Canton, and we all compete for the same resources, for the same concepts. We have to realize there is one fundamental thing and that is we all love Baltimore.”

Gumtow stressed the importance of celebrating Baltimore’s innovators and innovations and its many business success stories, such as Under Armour and T. Rowe Price.

“We have to create this environment of cooperation versus competition and if we can do that and start to define and solve some of these problems, I think we’ll just blow them away,” Gumtow said. “I can give you lots of statistics about why Maryland is better, it is fertile ground, and there is a lot more here.”

 Warnock deeply embraces that sentiment.

“We’ve got to work together and believe that this town is as good as it is,” Warnock said “We are a great place to live. The quicker we start believing in that and working together, it’s going to be good and I’m very optimistic about where we’re going to go.”

The entrepreneurs also discussed the use of technology in today’s classroom and the opportunities it affords students.

The “confluence of technology and the way kids learn today is changing the education environment, Warnock said.

The education establishment is “glacially moving” toward online and “blended” learning, Marks said. In a “blended” learning environment, the model for future teachers will be less the “sage on the stage” and more that of a mentor and learning facilitator.

“What’s coming fast and what we should aspire to is why shouldn’t every kid in a Baltimore City high school have access to Mandarin or access to advanced astronomy or access to science or remedial this or remedial that?,” said Warnock, who is also a founder and trustee of Green Street Academy, a charter school in Baltimore. “It’s all about giving regular kids access to great educational outcomes.”

Meanwhile, at the college level, one of the debates of the future will be over “what is the value of a four-year degree?,” Warnock said. “We’ve gotten to the point where these price points of a four-year degree are so high that kids come out of school with these stifling amounts of debt.”

The ratio between “what I have to borrow and what I earn is just way out of whack,” Warnock said. “It’s causing people to really reflect and to think hard or what is the value of a certification, as opposed to a four-year degree.

When it comes to that value proposition, “employers will do the talking” through their hiring actions, he added.

Gumtow said we can build a better Baltimore – and tomorrow’s workforce – by business leaders paying it forward.

“If you step out and help someone, a kid in high school or a young entrepreneur or a new endeavor, that will make a difference,” he said. “The number one thing is relationships. How do you get those relationships? It’s helping someone else.”

Business advocates need to draw on the wisdom of these three talented entrepreneurs.

We need to nurture higher expectations. While we are working diligently to strengthen our region’s and our state’s business competitiveness, we need to remind ourselves that we live and work in a remarkable place with character, talented people, an exceptional quality of life and abundant opportunity.

Then we need to tell the world … loudly and often.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

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Donald C. Fry has been the president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), the central Maryland region's most prominent organization of business and civic leaders, since November 2002.

Under Don’s leadership, the GBC is recognized as a knowledgeable and highly credible business voice in the Baltimore region, Annapolis and Washington, D.C. on policy issues and competitive challenges facing Maryland. Its mission is to apply private-sector leadership to strengthening the business climate and quality of life in the region and state.

Fry served as GBC executive vice president from 1999 to 2002. From 1980 to 1999 Fry was engaged in a private law practice in Harford County. During this time he also served in the Maryland General Assembly. He is one of only a handful of legislators to have served on each of the major budget committees of the General Assembly.

Serving in the Senate of Maryland from 1997 to 1998, Fry was a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. As a member of the House of Delegates from 1991 to 1997 Fry served on the Ways and Means Committee and on the Appropriations Committee.

Fry is a 1979 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law. He earned a B.S. in political science from Frostburg State College.