Gov. Larry Hogan (R) won a surprise victory in liberal Maryland last fall in part by promising to make the state a better place to conduct business.
On Thursday, the senior Democrats in Annapolis presented him with a blueprint on how to do it.
A report by the Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission identified 10 challenges holding the state back economically, including a scattered and ineffective economic development strategy, too much reliance on federal jobs and a culture where government officials often seem more interested in enforcing rules than fostering growth.
The commission provided 32 suggestions for how the state can change.
“There’s no silver bullet here. There’s no simple answer,” said Norman R. Augustine, a retired Lockheed Martin chief executive officer and chairman who led the commission that was created at the behest of Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).
The conclusion of “the Augustine Commission,” as lawmakers in Annapolis like to call it: “Maryland has not nearly reached its potential in growing business and creating jobs.”
Miller and Busch appeared at a news conference with Augustine Thursday to praise the report’s findings and pledge to enact as many of the recommendations as possible.
Miller took the opportunity to repeat one of Hogan’s campaign catchphrases: “Maryland is open for business.”
It was a markedly different tone from last week, when the two Democrats blasted Hogan for describing Maryland’s economy as “floundering” because of “high taxes, over-regulation and an anti-business attitude,” and sparred with him over a proposed slowdown in education funding.
“See how far we’ve come in a week?” Busch quipped.
He and Miller said they would introduce five pieces of legislation based on the report, including bills that would create a secretary of commerce position, provide customer service training for state workers and encourage university researchers to start businesses based on their findings or look for other ways to market their ideas.
Hogan plans to work with the two powerful Democrats to get those bills passed and doesn’t plan to introduce legislation on his own, said J oseph M. Getty, the governor’s policy and legislative director. Bills sponsored by Democrats will probably have a much easier time in the Democratic-controlled legislature than ones proposed by the Republican governor, Getty said.
Hogan said he’s pleased to see legislators taking steps to make Maryland more business-friendly.
“We’re in agreement on the goal,” he said at an event with military veterans in Greenbelt. “I think there’s going to be a lot of things we agree on.”
The report lays out the competition that Maryland faces from other states, especially those that offer handsome incentives to businesses, and from foreign countries. And it details what the commission felt were the biggest hurdles Maryland needs to overcome. Among them:
●Economic development programs are scattered among too many departments, and there’s no one-stop shop for business owners, the report says. The commission recommended creating a secretary of commerce position to oversee and coordinate all of these efforts.
●A large chunk of jobs in Maryland is directly tied to the federal government. The report warns that it’s not healthy for a state to rely so heavily on one type of business endeavor, especially in light of federal budget cuts. The commission recommended that the state take full advantage of these federal jobs, while also building up other industries.
●Maryland has a reputation — perhaps real, perhaps perceived — of not being business-friendly, the commission reported. It recommended customer-service training for state workers who interact with the public, lavishing attention on start-up companies, and launching a marketing campaign such as New York’s “Start-Up NY.”
The commission also suggested that Maryland review its existing regulations and more fully explore the effect that any proposed regulations could have on small businesses, along with reevaluating how businesses are taxed and which companies receive financial incentives.
And while Maryland has one of the best-educated workforces in the country, the commission wrote that workers’ skills don’t always align with what employers need. The report recommended that lawmakers heavily invest in the state’s public colleges and universities, set up an apprenticeship program and improve the state’s worst-performing schools.
“We’ve seen some hard times . . . and it’s going to be a tough haul,” Augustine said, at the same time describing himself as optimistic about the state’s future. “I think that we’re at a turning point. We’re at a crossroads.”
John Wagner contributed to this report.