Baltimore Is Poised for Recovery
Dean, Johns Hopkins Carey Business School
It’s fair to say 2020 has not been the year that many of us anticipated. Last year, many Baltimore businesses finished December on a strong note. The city’s unemployment rate was at a record-low 4.2 percent, and economic indicators for Downtown such as housing residency and office occupancy were relatively steady. Then within the first few months of the new year, COVID-19 swept the world. The pandemic upended economic activity everywhere threatening to reverse years of growth and progress.
Baltimore and the surrounding region were not immune to the pandemic’s grip on the economy. A survey conducted by Downtown Partnership in April found that 94 percent of Downtown businesses were directly impacted by COVID-19. Among those businesses, 80 percent said they were facing a “potential significant impact” causing them great concern. By August, unemployment in Baltimore reached 9.3 percent. Tourist attractions and entertainment venues were among the many businesses that suffered. Bars and restaurants, which employ nearly 20,000 workers across the city, were hit particularly hard with many iconic establishments closing their doors permanently. Even large institutions such as Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland were forced to take unprecedented steps to reduce operating expenses and manage looming deficits.
There is no doubt that the current economic forecast for many businesses and workers appears bleak. Although economic recovery is unlikely to be swift or painless, there is room for optimism.
Despite the challenges ahead, Baltimore is well positioned for long-term economic success by transforming the region into a hub for health entrepreneurs and innovators.
In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated why Baltimore and the surrounding region are uniquely situated to revolutionize the business of health. Maryland’s top-ranked research universities, including Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, have been at the forefront of the nation’s pandemic response. In fact, Johns Hopkins researchers developed a globally-recognized dashboard to track the spread of coronavirus, as well as making progress on new rapid diagnostic tests and treatment therapies.
The business of health could be incredibly lucrative for the region. In 2018, U.S. health care spending was more than $3.6 trillion, accounting for 17.7 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, and is projected to reach $6.2 trillion by 2028. The high-paying jobs that the health industry could attract to Baltimore would be a significant economic boon to all business sectors in the region.
Fortunately, Baltimore has many of the key ingredients needed for transforming the region into a hub for health entrepreneurs and innovators.
First and foremost, Maryland is home to a highly educated and technically skilled workforce with one of the highest concentrations of doctoral scientists in the country. The state is also supported by many top-ranked research universities, including Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland. Both universities have made significant investments in building up Baltimore’s biotech infrastructure with Maryland’s BioPark in West Baltimore and the Eager Park innovation district in East Baltimore near Johns Hopkins. These biotech hubs can help transform research discoveries made by anchor institutions into impactful commercial ventures. Competitive research funding from the federal government and philanthropic organizations also helps, which is a benefit of Baltimore’s proximity to the nation’s capital and government agencies like the National Institutes of Health.
There is no shortage of innovations on which to build companies. For example, Johns Hopkins investigators report over 400 inventions each year. The state is also home to more than 500 biotech companies and 2,700 life sciences firms.
Recently, four Johns Hopkins graduates launched ClearMask. The South Baltimore-based firm makes a medical face shield that allows the wearer’s mouth and facial expressions to be visible to others. The unique design enhances communication between patients and health care providers, which is particularly important for young children and patients with profound hearing loss. To date, ClearMask has sold more than 11 million masks worldwide.
Thrive Earlier Detection, a Baltimore-based company with connections to Johns Hopkins, was purchased in October 2020 by Exact Sciences for $2.1 billion. Thrive Earlier Detection has been working on a blood test that can detect cancers early as part of routine medical care.
Another Baltimore firm, emocha Mobile Health, developed mobile video technology to help tuberculosis patients adhere to their medication schedules. The company was launched in 2013 by two Johns Hopkins Carey Business School graduates and is based on technology licensed from Johns Hopkins University. In March, emocha began collaborating with Maryland hospitals to launch a remote monitoring service to identify, track, and manage symptoms of health care professionals who have been exposed to COVID-19.
Baltimore still needs to develop and attract innovative business leaders who are equipped to develop and bring products to market, build dynamic teams, tackle regulatory and reimbursement hurdles, and attract capital. In 2019, Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures created 16 new startups and raised $525 million in venture funding, but many more ideas are waiting to be turned into successful businesses.
At Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, we are working to educate business leaders who understand all aspects of the business of health from managing health providers to running organizations that deal with the cost of providing their employees with health care coverage. Our new MBA curriculum provides a path of study in “Health, Technology and Innovation” that trains students to find technology-driven, human-centered solutions to complex health problems with an emphasis on business analytics and leadership development.
Let’s hope 2021 turns out better than 2020. I believe we can be optimistic that an exciting new chapter of business development in Baltimore is just around the corner.
Alexander Triantis is third dean of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. He joined the Carey Business School in 2019. An expert in the areas of corporate financial strategy and valuation, Triantis believes a strong business education for the 21st century should be modeled on a three-prong approach that includes, interdisciplinary collaboration, experiential learning, and online learning. Learn more about them at Carey.jhu.edu.