Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes came here today peddling the advantages of his home state and firmly downplaying the notion that Maryland is antibusiness.
"A lot of Maryland business people are here today at their own expense and time to let you know that Maryland is a good place to do business," Hughes told a luncheon meeting of 250 Midwestern business leaders at a swank downtown Chicago hotel. "We are here to show you we have a fine state."
Hughes' comments were in part intended to overcome negative publicity from the recent announcement by Fairchild Industries that it will move its corporate headquarters from Montgomery County, Md., to Dulles Airport in Virginia. The move, which Fairchild officials publicly said reflected only internal business decisions, provoked a spate of publicity about the business climate in Maryland.
Several Maryland business people, including some on today's trip, said the Fairchild announcement, which also followed the company's conviction on state water pollution charges, and an earlier decision by American Telephone & Telegraph to locate a regional office in Virginia instead of Maryland, were indicative of a poor business attitude in Maryland. Some of these business leaders have since started a Business Roundtable to come up with suggestions for an improvement in the business climate.
While Maryland economic development officials said today's trip had been in the works for at least a year, it was also an opportunity for Hughes to counter criticism that he says comes from a small group of entrepreneurs.
Hughes was accompanied on his seven-hour trip by 50 Maryland executives, a phalanx of staffers, former Baltimore Orioles great Brooks Robinson and 100 pounds of Maryland crabmeat.
Economic development officials said the selling job, which featured a speech by Robinson and a 12-minute slide show, cost taxpayers $40,000, a figure they said was worth it if just one small firm relocates or expands in Maryland. They said similar trips in 1980 and 1981 helped bring new firms to the state.
Hughes, in his speech to the Chicagoans, made a strong probusiness pitch, emphasizing Maryland's constitutionally mandated balanced budget, a wide-reaching bank deregulation law enacted by the legislature this year, the AAA bond rating and the new Department of Employment and Training. All of this, he said, makes for a positive business environment.
Four legislative leaders accompanying Hughes delivered the message that the Maryland General Assembly, despite an image as prolabor, enacted major probusiness measures last session, such as the credit bill, and killed others that Maryland businessmen had strongly opposed, such as a bill of rights for the unemployed.
"I think that was the best legislature we've had for business," said Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Senate Budget and Tax Committee. "What happened is the emphasis is now on jobs."
Even one of those who has criticized Maryland's business climate was pumping up the state today. "I have a vested interest in selling Maryland," said C&P Telephone cochairman Henry Butta. "I'm not here as a critic, I'm selling. If we're going to change the perception that a lot of Maryland corporate executives think other states have, we all have to work together like here in Chicago."
One of those being wooed was Del Morgano, who develops properties for a company that prints business forms and is looking for a mid-Atlantic site.
"Is it impressive to have a governor show up personally?" Morgano asked. "Hell yes."
An invitee who clearly was not impressed by the effort was Chicago's new mayor, Harold Washington, who was invited as a courtesy. But Washington didn't show. Said one official, "What's he going to do, show up and say thanks for trying to steal our business?"