POSITION WANTED: Blue-ribbon committee of businessmen from Washington and Baltimore would like to be catalyst for economic development in the two-city region. Can provide market research and promote region as common market. Contact Washington/Baltimore Regional Association.
The executive committee of the Washington/Baltimore Regional Association didn't approve a want ad item in those exact words at its meeting Monday. However, after five years of trying to determine a precise role for the organization, directors are close to adopting a program that reflects the tone of that fictitious ad.
Until now, the WBRA has floundered, and its members--leading businessmen from metropolitan Washington and Baltimore--have been at odds over the direction it should take.
A more critical stumbling block, perhaps, has been a strong sense of parochialism in the two cities that has split the organization on several issues, say some members.
And while there had been growing doubt that the WBRA would become a viable organization for promoting economic development, members now are convinced that they can make the concept work.
"I'm very elated over what's happened in the last few days," said Vincent C. Burke Jr., WBRA's cochairman.
Burke acknowledged that there had been "sincere differences of opinion" among WBRA members over the organization's role. Nobody has a "firm, dogmatic, resolute idea of how the thing ought to go," but the organization "is here to stay," he declared.
Indeed, there have been changes in recent weeks. For one thing, Barry Zorthian, the WBRA's president, resigned three weeks ago amid sharp differences of opinion among some members over the role of the staff. At Monday's meeting, Zorthian was replaced as staff chief by David L. Winstead, a former assistant who has been named executive director.
"Barry, history will prove, did a heck of a job," said Burke, the chairman of Riggs National Bank.
But some WBRA members grumbled that they weren't getting their money's worth in terms of what the staff had been providing. Indeed, several said privately that Zorthian was paid too much.
Zorthian acknowledged receiving "a reasonably good salary" and confirmed that there had been considerable "backbiting" because some WBRA members "lacked the ability to see the nature of the work that was being done."
Zorthian had committed himself to remaining with the WBRA for a year, but resigned after more than two years as president. The most visible prod uct of the WBRA's activities thus far is an economic profile, which it commissioned Robert R. Nathan Associates to do last tyear. The study is probably the most comprehensive ever done on the region as a single economic market and has been used widely by businesses and local governments in their economic development programs.
But some WBRA members questioned the value and efficacy of the $18,000 study.
Funding of the organization has led to unhappiness, as well. In the Washington area, members pay corporate dues of $5,000 annually. In Baltimore, the Greater Baltimore Committee pays for membership of its representatives in the WBRA.
Burke is prepared to push for a reduction in individual assessments.
Zorthian's appointment was made after a good deal of indecision by the WBRA over what its role should be.
The idea for the organization was conceived more than five years ago. At first, members thought in terms of hiring a staff to market the Washington-Baltimore region as a common market. Business attraction was the prime goal.
But as one Washington business leader observed: "The guys that got into this thing didn't really understand what this whole business of attracting business and economic development was all about. There was a real void in thier judgment."
When businessmen from the two cities got together to form the WBRA, economic development "was in pretty bad shape in Maryland," said an individual who took part in the early discussions. In the years that followed, however, Maryland "got its act together" and put heavy emphasis on economic development.
In the interim, Maryland's aggressive approach to economic development has been matching that of Virginia. At the same time, Baltimore and county governments in the region have formalized economic development programs.
Add to that the fact that the Greater Washington Board of Trade and its counterpart, the Greater Baltimore Committee, have made attracting business a major part of their programs.
In effect, the original concept developed by the WBRA "was overtaken by events," Zorthian said. As a result, the WBRA's directors decided to pull back.
"It's been an evolutionary process for all of us," Burke said. "We're still learning."
Burke now believes it is "far better for Gov. Harry Hughes to sell Maryland, or Mayor William Donald Schaefer to sell Baltimore as part of the common market. Let each spoke in the wheel do its own thing."
At this stage of the evolutionary process, the WBRA's directors appear to be convinced that the committee's role should consist of providing market research to governments and business executives in the common market, focusing on public policy issues and acting as a catalyst for economic development.
The implications of looking at the region as a common market should be broader than promotion, Zorthian believes. Land-use development, water treatment and regional use of the airports and the Baltimore harbor are but a few issues that the WBRA should be addressing, he said.