If you did a survey every year of the region’s employers, such as our Best Places to Work effort, you might expect to see only gradual change in the corporate landscape from one year to the next. But three important trends are quietly playing out in the Baltimore job market that have turned that theory on its head: First, is a recovery in hiring from the recession in nearly all sectors that has Maryland’s unemployment rate down to a nationally enviable 6.9 percent. (Have you noticed how bad rush-hour traffic has gotten?) That’s closing in on what most economists consider the 5 percent acceptable rate. Another trend is the positive economic impact on local firms resulting from our proximity to Washington, D.C., especially in defense-related work. And a third is the rapid growth of Baltimore’s I.T. industry into what Forbes magazine says is now the second strongest job market for tech workers in the nation.
Those three forces helped shape our list of great employers who are planning significant hiring in 2012. Baltimore, for instance, has always been very strong in things like health care and medical research, as well as in finance (the port is booming, too), but now we’re seeing tech companies matching that strength with impressive profits and an insatiable appetite for skilled I.T. workers.
At the same time, there’s an entrepreneurial spirit in Baltimore that is making serious headway in the form of startups and spinoff companies, thanks to venture-capital funding (and in the absence of much constructive contribution by banks). And we’re not just talking about successes we’re all familiar with like Under Armour. There are some booming, small and mid-sized companies with unique niches on the list this year that most Baltimoreans have never heard of—from Millennial Media (now going for a $75 million IPO), to Moodlerooms, Key Tech, and BTS. (Check out how fast BTS is growing in the field of classified cellular technology.)
But it’s not all about tech. Even creative agencies here are enjoying a resurgence, landing accounts that are not just regional but national.
Another thing we discovered in our research was that many of these firms seem to be dedicating themselves to staying within the city confines, helping to reinvent Baltimore into the Silicon Valley of the East, and encouraging their employees to think urban in their housing decisions, too.
Baltimoreans are a little too self-effacing when it comes to the intellectual and creative potential in this town—potential now being realized. And this list tells me it’s time for Charm City to stop acting like the ugly stepchild of the Northeast corridor. It’s time for us to look at the cutting-edge things going on here and announce to the world, “Hey, Baltimore is where it’s at!”