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Live Baltimore Shines a Light on the City

Full Sail Media’s May Changemaker, 

Annie Milli, Executive Director of Live Baltimore

Annie Milli’s passionate advocacy for Baltimore shines through her efforts to change perceptions of the city and to encourage more people to call it home. Through initiatives like the Live Near Your Work program, the Trolley Tour, and Baltimore’s Birthday Bash, Milli and her team work closely with local businesses and institutions to help foster a sense of pride and belonging among its residents.

Please introduce yourself and give us a brief overview of your organization’s mission and its impact on the community.

I’m Annie Milli, Live Baltimore’s executive director. I have been with Live Baltimore since 2013, and I’ve been executive director since 2017. We are a small but mighty team that is working to improve Baltimore City’s economy by growing its population. Live Baltimore works to recruit residents, retain residents, and support healthy housing markets. 

In Baltimore, we collaborate with community organizations to provide information about residential neighborhoods to those who are considering moving into the city. We support home buyers with information about purchasing homes in Baltimore and about the financial assistance programs that are available for home buyers. We support residents raising children in the city by providing information about the city’s many school choice options. In addition, we work with employers to help recruit workers into the city and bring employees here and to help employees make decisions to live near their work.

Live Baltimore also educates real estate agents on the benefits of Baltimore City living through an accredited continuing education class that we teach with the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

All of this work is critically important because residents are the number one contributor to the city’s economy. Residents fund all of the services and infrastructure that we all share and benefit from in Baltimore, and so by creating a growing city, we can help all of our residents to thrive and prosper in their communities.

With these different kinds of initiatives, how are you measuring the success of each of them? What are some of the ways that you track progress?

Live Baltimore is primarily a marketing organization. We’re working to promote the city as a great place to live. A lot of our key performance indicators are around our marketing programs, like how much of a reach we get through our consumer advertising about neighborhoods and about city incentives. 

We’re always measuring our website traffic, like how many people are coming to LiveBaltimore.com to research neighborhoods and learn about homebuying. We host a lot of events throughout the year, so we are always aiming to attract as many prospective home buyers as possible to tour our communities. So we track our event attendance and then, through those sorts of inputs and outputs, we’re able to really calculate our impact. 

One of the major ways we calculate our impact is by looking at how many of the folks who came to us and inquired about moving to Baltimore actually followed through and did so. 

Then, because we provide so much customer service, we’re always measuring how satisfied our customers are with the insights that we provide them and the education that they receive. We measure our customer service score very, very closely. We conduct tons of surveying and we measure ourselves through a sort of a common performance indicator, the Net Promoter Score. 

Every year we’re really proud to say that our Net Promoter score is among the country’s top-rated brands. We’re up there with Costco and T-Mobile, which are some of the highest-rated brands for customer satisfaction in the US—and that’s pretty unbelievable.

What is the economic impact on the city by those residents coming in? 

What we know is that every new household to Baltimore City contributes about $11,000 in annual tax revenue. That’s a really significant contribution to the services and the infrastructure that we all share. 

We’re able to calculate our impact really clearly there. 

Do you know about how many people that you begin to talk to that actually end up here? 

I can share our impact on the city’s overall housing market, which is that year over year we work with at least one in six Baltimore City homebuyers, which is an incredible proportion of the market. We’re really supporting a huge number of transactions each year. There were close to 1700 home buyers in the most recent fiscal year, which is pretty incredible for a small organization with ten team members to work with that many folks.

What challenges do you have as far as getting in front of people that may or may not be considering relocating to Baltimore City? 

Baltimore has struggled nationally with perception challenges. Unfortunately, the media coverage of our city hasn’t always been positive and, in our view, hasn’t always been accurate. People write and film television shows and movies here that lead to certain perceptions of our city. We’re always trying to educate people about what is fiction and what is reality and what people can expect when they are really living in our neighborhoods—which is very different from what they see on television.

Overcoming those perceptions is always something that we’re working to do and that many folks struggle with. Baltimore’s kind of an underdog. We’re a bit of an underrated city. People often aren’t aware that we have this booming tech industry with millions and millions of dollars of investment coming into the city or that we have an economy that’s growing faster than the region, or that our housing market is actually very strong throughout the 81 square miles of the city.

Those are some of the perceptions that we are working to overcome and that’s always a challenge with our homebuyers. 

So many people still don’t believe that they can ever achieve the dream of homeownership and it’s really achievable in Baltimore. We have one of the most affordable cities in the country. Homes here are well-built, historic, and lovely. They can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of comparable homes in neighboring Washington, DC, for example. Live Baltimore helps to educate people on how they can really fulfill their dreams and achieve generational wealth by investing in our homes here.

What sort of mentality do you have about collaborating with these different partners, whether it’s real estate agents or employers or school districts, to promote Baltimore?

Partnerships are really critical for everything that we do because we are a small organization. We can only reach so many people ourselves. We conduct a citywide survey of home buyers every other year, and we survey tens of thousands of people. Year after year, we hear that real estate agents are the most influential people in our home buyers’ decisions about whether to buy and where to buy. We really need real estate agents to understand the diversity of housing stock that we have here, the affordability, and the various amenities that our neighborhoods offer. 

We also heavily rely on employers because that’s one of the top reasons people move in the United States. The number one reason is for a bigger or better house. The number two reason is moving because of jobs. It’s really important that we’re working with employers and that we have a symbiotic relationship where if they’re recruiting people, they’re aware of the tools and resources that we have to help them close the sale on those recruiting efforts. 

Over 150 employers in Baltimore have something called the Live Near Your Work program, where employers actually contribute money toward their employees’ down payments on homes that are within Baltimore City or near the employer’s physical location. 

We help promote the Live Near Your Work program because it’s a win-win for everyone involved. Live Baltimore helps support people who are moving here for jobs. Then once people are here, we can work with them, and employers can give them the added motivation of contributing funds towards their home purchase, all while making an investment in our communities. 

We also have a great relationship with Baltimore City Public Schools that dates back to when we started a program for families in 2015. We recently partnered with the early childhood department to do a webinar for families of toddlers who are considering enrolling in Pre-K. The process has changed for the upcoming school year, and we wanted to make sure that families were prepared. We leverage our resident networks and school systems experts to help provide education and resources to anyone who has kids in the city.

Are there ways for people who are not directly working for you to get involved with Live Baltimore and what you are trying to do?

There are three main ways that we would love to direct people to get involved with the organization. The first way is by becoming a neighborhood ambassador. We have this feature on our website where, if you live in Baltimore City, love your neighborhood, and would be willing to answer questions for residents who are considering your neighborhood, you can sign up. You’ll then be listed on your neighborhood’s page as a neighborhood ambassador. That personal touch when somebody is considering a new community can really close the deal. 

We have hundreds of ambassadors, but we’re always looking for more. It’s easy to sign up at: www.livebaltimore.com

We’re also always looking for volunteers for our homebuying events, which are always free to the public. We host an event called the Trolley Tour three times per year in the spring, fall, and winter. Each event has over 500 prospective homebuyer attendees who can sit in on expert-led workshops, visit a city living fair full of resources, and board tour buses to go out into our communities and see what’s what’s there on offer. 

We always need volunteers to pull off those events. It takes about 30 volunteers to host a successful Trolley Tour. It’s just a really wonderful way to be that sort of smiling face that welcomes new residents to Baltimore. 


The last way people can get involved is that on the final Friday of each July, we throw a huge birthday party for the city and we invite residents of the city from all over to come. This year will be our 10th annual event. We provide free tickets to community leaders. We have representatives from local businesses doing their version of birthday cake for Baltimore. We have a raffle of presents that you can participate in, and then the mayor always leads the crowd in a Happy Birthday singalong. It’s just a really wonderful civic pride initiative that has been growing and growing and growing every year. 

Baltimore’s Birthday Bash is also Live Baltimore’s major fundraiser of the year. It helps us to do the work that we do all year round, and we would love to see anybody who likes what we do come support us through that and have some cake, some drinks, and some fun too. That’ll be July 26th this year. Last year we had over 1,000 people come to this party, and we’re to welcome even more this year.

 

Get Involved With Live Baltimore

As Annie Milli and Live Baltimore continue to champion Baltimore’s rejuvenation, you can play a part! You’re invited to experience the community and neighborhoods that define our historic city. 

If you’re curious about home ownership in Baltimore or seeking to find your perfect neighborhood, consider joining the next Trolley Tour. 

Additionally, don’t miss out on celebrating Baltimore City’s rich history at the annual Baltimore’s Birthday Bash. Mark your calendars for July 26th for a day filled with celebration, community, and pride in Baltimore’s journey from a modest 100 households to over 225,000 today. The Birthday Bash promises cake, presents, and communal singing, making it more than just a gala—it’s a heartfelt tribute to the city we love. 

Secure your tickets now and be part of honoring Baltimore’s past, present, and future. Join us in these festivities as we continue to embrace and uplift the community spirit that Annie Milli and Live Baltimore have cultivated over the years.