How Johns Hopkins could bring back manufacturing to East Baltimore

The Washington Monument can be viewed in this historical photo from the last century when Baltimore was a mecca for manufacturing jobs. (Wikipedia)

When you grow up in the shadow of Johns Hopkins Hospital, you hear all of the conspiracy theories about the renowned medical institution’s evil plot to take over East Baltimore.

For decades, any time you saw work being done south of North Avenue it was part of the grand scheme for total domination.

Back in 2003, the conspiracy theorist weren’t that paranoid.

To make room for a technology park and a charter school, many families in the immediate blocks around the hospital were relocated.

Some felt that they had finally done it. Hopkins got its way and was able to get rid of us. They aren’t concerned about East Baltimore. It is all about that #1 ranking in the U.S. News & World Report.

Johns Hopkins wants to mend fences in East Baltimore

In a January interview with the Baltimore Business Journal, university President Ronald J. Daniels outlined Hopkins’ new initiative to embrace Baltimore rather than be the city’s stand-alone diamond in the rough.

One key is retention. The University wants to keep the talent that passes through its hallowed halls local. But to keep their young graduates in the city, they need an influx of new start-up and outside companies that want to build foundations in Baltimore.

That can only be achieved by making Baltimore better.

“Recognizing our role — economically, socially, in terms of ideas generation — on so many different dimensions requires a sense of even greater awareness of and commitment to the city,” Daniels said.

If you peek just north and east of the hospital grounds, you’ll see neighborhoods that definitely need to be fixed. Gone are the days when my father could work at Bethlehem Steel for 35 years and provide a middle-class life without a bachelor’s degree – which means many of these neighborhood’s inhabitants have been left behind.

Last century this country saw workers move up the economic ladder with the advent of new industries where manufacturing jobs allowed them to up their income without the need of higher education.

Due to technology, outsourcing and the transition to a service economy, some believe that this manufacturing middle class is a thing of the past – and on a large scale they may be right.

However, manufacturing can work on a niche-level. You can find burgeoning industries out there in our economy, which still have use for the blue-collar worker that makes something.

One of these niche-markets has a strong imprint in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

1bd6e8bThe BioHealth Market in Baltimore

BioHealth is considered the combination of the healthcare, life sciences, biosciences, information technology and manufacturing industries., according to a  report put out last year by the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore (EAGB). Sectors include biotechnology, biopharma, medical devices, healthcare services, health IT, e-health, mobile health, electronic medical records, health informatics and BioHealth cyber security.

Baltimore corridor boasts one of the most robust BioHealth markets in the US with its nationally ranked schools and facilities along with federal agencies. Its ranks right along side the likes of the Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia markets. In fact, the Baltimore/Central Maryland region alone would find itself among the top 10 U.S. regions in the industry in size and concentration.

That same EAGB report shed light on just how important this industry is to our area now and going forward:
Greater Baltimore/Central Maryland accounts for 50 percent of all BioHealth employees in the Baltimore-Washington region. Maryland is home to more than 500 core bioscience companies, representing approximately 8 percent of the U.S. industry. This is the 2nd largest cluster (per capita) in the US and 4th overall in “core biotechnology” companies.

EAGB_NAME.jpgThe state’s bio community creates over $5 billion in revenues and employs greater than 30,000 people.
The State of Maryland has invested more than $700 million in infrastructure and programs directly to bioscience companies over the past 20 years.

In May 2009, Governor Martin O’Malley unveiled BioMaryland 2020 – the State Strategic Plan for Life Sciences. BioMaryland 2020 calls for an investment of over $1.3 billion in ten years.

The state is all-in for this industry and there’s the possibility that biohealth could be leveraged even more. If you look at what’s been done in Cambridge, MA over the last 2 decades, you can see how biohealth has brought back the manufacturing worker for the good of the community.

The Biomed Careers Training Program

For the past 22 years, people having been walking into the

Cambridge Bio Medical career classroom. (Public Domain)
Cambridge Bio Medical career classroom. (Public Domain)

training classroom run by the local nonprofit Just-a-Start. Most who enter the program are a testament to a changing workforce – they find themselves unemployed because of blue-collar jobs out-sourced overseas and a lack of knowledge to contribute to this new ever-evolving knowledge economy.

However, through training and specialized teaching, citizens in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the greater Boston area have been able to secure stable positions in careers like pharmaceutical manufacturing. It’s an example of retraining the blue-collar worker for a new economy.

How did this happen?

Even in the early 1990s, Greater Boston saw the potential of the biotech sector in their region. What they created was a part classroom – part lab course geared primarily to train program participants for pharmaceutical manufacturing jobs.

The training program takes about 20 to 30 students every year and places about 77 percent of graduates in the biomedical field with an average salary of about $35,000. As I stated in my Harbor Point piece, the top of the bottom 20 percent of wage earners in Baltimore make only $13,522.

Isn’t this type of program offered at community colleges?

Yes it is. However, this type of program seems to be better suited for its students because of its flexibility. Most community colleges offer two-year programs.

The entire length of the program is nine months – consisting of five hour long days five days a week. The scheduling allows students to keep a job while in the program and to quickly enter into their new career path after graduation.

More importantly, the program is free. Funding comes from funds from the city of Cambridge, grants and private funds.

And the demand is great. Every year they receive about 200 applicants for the 20 to 30 spots. The low-income segment of the Cambridge community wants to take advantage of the opportunity given by Just-a-Start.

Candidates are tested in basic math and reading skills and also must go through a personal interview. The program states that the ideal candidates are those that have exhibited a sense of maturity and persistence and show a fit for the day-to-day labor of the industry.

I’m just saying

More than 400 alumni from the program have been trained to compete for 21st century jobs. So now you have to ask the question, with a biomed landscape similar to the Cambridge and Greater Boston area, why couldn’t this work in Baltimore?

Johns Hopkins is making strides to reconnect with a community that many believe they left behind decades ago. What better way to foster a new dynamic by initiating and being a part of a program that could help bring some of the neediest in East Baltimore into the age of technology.