Resisting Temptation

Our belated congratulations to Catherine Pugh for having been elected Mayor of Baltimore. Well done.

Mayor-elect Pugh is, hands down, the most capable person to be elected by the city in decades. The only problem is, she may be too capable and may, soon enough, find herself mired in the quicksand that is the city government she’s taking over. It’s an ineffective, albeit usually well-meaning, but often dysfunctional mess.

The good news is that Ms. Pugh has the skill, experience and intellect to fix it. The bad news is that, like the management perfectionist she is, she’s going to try. Our advice: Don’t. It’s a distraction two-thirds of the city can’t afford.

You know the two-thirds we’re talking about? They’re the people, the families who have been, for decades, struggling just along or well outside the perimeter of the Baltimore that is successful. They are the chronically unemployed and under-employed whose plight has persisted for Mayor after Mayor, for decades and, in some cases, generations.

Mayor Pugh, bringing these people into the mainstream economy of this region is your legacy. You have the ability to change the course of these families for the better and, in doing so, make Baltimore an all inclusive first class city. You can do it, but not if you get distracted, not if you let an understandable preoccupation with fixing the bureaucracy of Baltimore city government drag you down.

Here is a sampler of just 3 suggestions for how a concentrated, highly focused effort can greatly reduce unemployment and poverty in the city during your first and – honestly – we’re all adults here, what may be your only term as Mayor:

First, a relatively quick way to employ hundreds, possible a few thousand people…

There are literally hundreds, possibly thousands of jobs for unskilled and low-skilled Baltimore workers available now, right now, inside and mostly outside of the city. If only the city’s workers knew about them and, most importantly, had the transportation to get to there. These unemployed and under-employed workers don’t need mass transit, they need cars. And every major manufacturer is waiting to work with you to give them the smaller, inexpensive cars these families need.

A car greatly expands the geographic scope of a person’s job market, opening up opportunities to include the entire Baltimore metropolitan area.

Second, a program that will bring jobs to thousands more…

Avoid almost all programs under the general heading of “workforce development.” They’re not productive. Instead, spend every dollar you can beg, borrow or steal from the city’s resources to literally pay employers to provide on-the-job training to residents of specific Baltimore neighborhoods. On-the-job training is the only way to assure a perfect match between the skills of the un- and under-employed and what the employer needs. More to the point, it’s the only way to make sure a real job is actually waiting for the worker when he or she completes his or her training.

Third, here’s one idea that will be as productive as it is creative… Caution: This is one of those concepts you have think about a couple or three times before you react.

You need to bring lots of jobs for unskilled and low-skilled workers into the heart of the city. Not the downtown around the harbor, but to the struggling neighborhoods, the two-thirds of the city that this piece is all about. To an extent, you need to aggressively rebuild the city’s light manufacturing sector. By “aggressively,” we’re not talking about minor, insignificant incentives to employers. Get out your checkbook. Give employers all the property they need with zero property taxes for 5 to 10 years. Even with these high value incentives – because that’s what it’ll take to attract employers – the savings to city and the extra revenues generated when you put all these people to work will be well worth the investment.

But that’s not the idea… More specifically and in addition to all sorts of companies in other sectors, we recommend bringing agriculture to these city neighborhoods. That’s right, use the city’s vast reserves of vacant land and abandoned properties you’re going to demolish to grow stuff, indoors. To process and distribute food products. To produce fresh foods for city families. To figuratively and literally turn Baltimore’s urban desserts green. It’ll work. Reach out for help to Joe Bartenfelder, the State’s Secretary of Agriculture. Joe’s both a hell of a farmer and an even more effective administrator and politician. …Not only will you have put people to work, all of a sudden, Baltimore will be the talk of the country, in a good way this time. And all that positive momentum will work for you and for the city you care so much about.

Come on, soon-to-be Mayor Pugh. You really can put thousands of people to work and do it in a relative hurry. Re-doing city government can wait.

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