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Economic development chief Johansson leaving O’Malley’s Cabinet

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Christian S. Johansson is stepping down as Maryland’s secretary of business and economic development to take a job with a Baltimore-based global education company, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) plans to announce Wednesday.

Dominick Murray, a longtime O’Malley confidant who has served as Johansson’s deputy, will be named as the department’s new secretary, taking over the high-profile Cabinet post in mid-January, administration officials said.

The move is the latest in a recent string of high-level departures from the administration of O’Malley, who is term-limited and scheduled to leave office in just over two years.

Johansson is joining Laureate Education, which runs a worldwide network of higher education institutions serving 750,000 students. He will head up a new group focused on university partnerships in the United States, officials said.

Johansson began the job on an acting basis in January 2009, when the national economy was in free fall and the state’s unemployment rate was spiraling upward, topping 8 percent by the end of 2009.

In an interview, Johansson said he and O’Malley had listed a series of goals for his tenure when joined the administration.

“I feel very comfortable that most of the things we set out on our list, we’ve made good progress on,” Johansson said. “These have been four impactful years.”

Among his signature initiatives was InvestMaryland, which has raised $84 million through an online tax credit auction to invest in the state’s early-stage companies. Johansson was also at O’Malley’s side during a pair of overseas trade missions, with stops in China, South Korea, Vietnam and India.

With jobs paramount, Johansson and O’Malley frequently engaged in regional competitions to lure large employers and technology firms, ponying up incentives when necessary to keep companies from moving to Northern Virginia.

The state, in conjunction with Montgomery County and the City of Rockville, provided $4.3 million in loans and grants to encourage Choice Hotels to locate a new corporate headquarters in Rockville and issued a $9.5 million loan to Bechtel Power Corp., of Frederick, to keep 1,250 jobs there, though the company opted to move another 625 jobs to Reston.

On Tuesday, through a partnership with Montgomery County and the City of Gaithersburg, O'Malley and Johansson announced a $4 million package to keep the service firm Sodexo Inc. and its 567 jobs in Gaithersburg.

Johansson said the state has added 122,500 jobs since the beginning of the economic recovery, representing a majority of the jobs the state lost during the recession.

In a commentary he wrote for the Post in September, he touted the fact that in June, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked Maryland the top state for entrepreneurship and innovation, and he hailed a nearly 20 percent increase in the number of millionaires in the state since 2007.

Murray has been the deputy at the department since 2007 and previously worked on economic development issues for O’Malley during his days as mayor of Baltimore.

“We are fortunate to have someone with Dominick’s knowledge and extensive background in economic development take the helm,” O’Malley said in a statement.

Doug Becker, Laureate’s chief executive officer, said he was “delighted” that Johansson is joining the company, calling him “an outstanding public servant in Maryland and someone whose career I have followed for many years.”

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