In the fantasy world of one of Baltimore's future leaders, the city would be the world's biotechnology capital in the year 2020. Another in a group of participants in a recent brainstorming session at an Inner Harbor hotel envisioned a city in which big business will operate the public schools. Yet another pictured a city without automobiles. Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke envisioned a "city of grace" 30 years from now.

Those are just some of the dreams and ideals shared by what the Baltimore Sun described as a group of baby boomers -- 300 business, government and community leaders from the Baltimore area.

The visual montage produced by the group was an attempt to sketch its members' ideal of a Baltimore of the future. An attempt to solicit suggestions on how to make the Baltimore dreamland a reality might have produced a more useful session.

Indeed, the Sun reported that many of the participants in the brainstorming session departed frustrated that too much time had been spent dreaming of the future and not enough in trying to solve present-day problems. The disenchanted among the group may find a report by Johns Hopkins University useful as a substitute. For the report not only provides an analysis of many problems but also suggests a number of strategies for achieving economic growth and prosperity well into the next century.

There is considerable agreement that Baltimore faces an array of challenges over the next decade as it seeks to strengthen its economy and improve the quality of life in Baltimore city and the six counties around it.

How the public and private sectors respond to those challenges is crucial not only to maintaining the Baltimore area's competitive position but -- as the Johns Hopkins report points out -- strengthening the region's new engines of economic growth.

The region "can no longer rely on its traditional engines of economic growth, to carry it into the future," according to the report, which was prepared for the Greater Baltimore Committee by the university's Institute for Policy Studies.

Greater Baltimore needs a competitiveness strategy if it is to continue its current economic growth and prosperity into the 1990s, the institute concludes in the report, "Winning the Competitive Race: Toward a Strategy for Greater Baltimore in the 1900s."

According to the report, which was written by senior fellow Charles McMillion, Greater Baltimore can no longer count on traditional manufacturing, the port in Baltimore, federal procurement, consumer services and tourism to drive its economy -- at least not to the same degree and in the same way as in the past.

That's a sobering thought for officials in the Baltimore area, to be sure. It is, at the same time, however, an important consideration for officials in the Washington area. The two areas, after all, are commonly referred to as a common market. Indeed, the strong economic tie is central to the argument that the two metropolitan areas should be designated a combined statistical area by the federal government.

In the meantime, the Greater Baltimore region "needs to question old economic assumptions and assess how well positioned we are for the economy of the 1990s," observed Robert Keller, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Committee, in the preface to the Johns Hopkins report. There is, Keller added, "a sense of complacency and the lack of a well-developed economic strategy for the region."

There are other obstacles as well. Manufacturing in the region has suffered a precipitous decline since 1970 -- much worse than in the rest of Maryland or the nation, according to McMillion. The Port of Baltimore has lost 60 percent of its employment since 1969 and 40 percent of its cargo since 1980. Federal civilian and military employment in the region has remained flat for at least a decade, while population and overall employment growth have slowed considerably.

With traditional engines of economic growth slowing down, the Institute for Policy Studies suggests adoption of a new strategy to capitalize on the Baltimore region's strengths and opportunities: Accelerate the development of the area's new engines of growth.

Clearly, the Baltimore region has shifted from a traditional manufacturing base to one in which business and professional services have become major employment sectors. The institute obviously took note of this shift in suggesting that the region can develop as a leading regional center for specialized business and professional services.

"The region has important, and in some cases, world-class strengths in engineering and architectural services, banking and financial services, as well as research and health-care services. If these strengths could be expanded and built upon, the region could position itself as the commercial center of the Baltimore-Washington corridor."

On another front, the region should convert its leadership in medical and defense-related research into commercial enterprises, the institute suggested. The Baltimore-Washington corridor has the highest concentration of scientists and engineers in the nation but most of this talent and capacity aren't commercially oriented, it pointed out.

The institute further suggested that the region use its international resources, and that it take better advantage of unique resources in the nation's capital. The idea, of course, is to develop the Baltimore area as an international business center. "The region's strategy should focus on the development of global markets and access to technology, capital and talent for the area's traded services and export-oriented manufacturing industries."

Most would agree with the institute that banking as a whole is strong in the region, notwithstanding problem real estate loans recently reported by some of its leading financial institutions. Still, Greater Baltimore needs a greatly expanded seed capital industry if it expects to commercialize its research base, the institute suggested.

Moreover, it said, the region not only needs to strengthen traditional infrastructure but promote a more advanced one to support its new economic engines. More needs to be done however. "The region needs to be equally concerned with excellence in its telecommunications network, developing international air service at {Baltimore Washington International Airport}, and the ease and speed of transportation to Washington -- facilities which will further strengthen its research and specialized service industries," the institute recommended.

Endorsing the institute's report is one thing. Executing it is quite another. Its recommendations have no real meaning unless, of course, Baltimore area officials are in a position to implement them.

Improving the area's work force and strengthening basic education and other training programs are essential to the new competitiveness strategy. Indeed, the institute stressed: "With higher skill requirements and projected demographic shifts resulting in more women and minorities in the work force, the region needs a strategy to radically transform Baltimore city schools, improve training and continuing education opportunities, recruit non-traditional workers, and to address specialized skill shortages."

The Johns Hopkins study may not be the best blueprint for growth and prosperity in the Baltimore region but, as a practical guide to the future, it offers more than mere dreams