Originally published in Baltimore CityBiz List.
While most white papers mainly contribute to deforestation and global warming, the recently released Augustine Commission report has a chance of improving Maryland’s climate. As we wrote last week, our Speaker of the House and Senate President tasked Norm Augustine, the retired Chair of Lockheed, to lead a Commission to evaluate Maryland’s business climate. “Our principal finding is that Maryland has not nearly reached its potential in growing business and creating jobs.” While last week’s column focused on a number of recommendations (they’re 32 across 7 categories), we’re going to focus on two important Commission initiatives being driven by the resulting legislation.
Secretary of Commerce. This coming Monday, one of the most important Legislative Committee hearings impacting Maryland’s business community will play out as House Bill 943 is debated. This bill elevates Maryland’s economic development efforts to residing inside the Governor’s office and its head to being Secretary of Commerce, and attempts to fundamentally reset by legislative fiat the DNA of what was DBED from a regulatory mindset to a customer oriented one, driven by economic competitiveness and commerce. Remember that many of the Commission’s recommendations were to reorient Maryland’s economic development efforts to create an easy to use and responsive environment in which to do business. Both the Augustine Commission and this legislation attempt to shift “economic development” from being a “department” with a regulatory DNA, to being a customer-oriented “culture”.
Technology Reset. The other promising initiative coming out of the Commission Report and this legislation is to end the separation of state supported technology thought leadership and technology related funding initiatives that have been scattered around several organizations and among several programs. Whether this separation was a creature of politics or not doesn’t matter; what matters is it made it hard for promising tech companies to figure out where to go for resources. Among other recommendations, the Augustine Commission and this legislation move to TEDCO the following programs critical to Maryland’s competitiveness in technology sectors:
- Maryland Life Sciences Advisory Board
- Invest Maryland
- Maryland Venture Fund Authority
It made little sense that TEDCO’s existing programs focused on nurturing promising technologies to commercialization were orphaned from programs that supported specific technology industries and the scaling of such companies. After the hearing on Monday this separation should be closer to resolution.
Attitude Adjustment. After Monday we will know a lot more about how these key changes to Maryland’s business environment will unfold. But resetting the deck chairs, even if on the right decks, isn’t enough. The Commission and I suspect Governor Hogan and his DBED head, Mike Gill, know this. The Augustine Commission Report itself acknowledged that restructuring isn’t enough. “Perhaps the most important single recommendation is to fundamentally change the attitude perceived to be held by many State agencies and employees that they have no responsibility to assist in economic development, business growth, or job creation.” Secretary Gill faces this challenge and, as he’s quick to point out, has the opportunity to reset the culture around serving our business community not only within what is currently DBED but across state government.
Mind the Gap. As we said last week, Maryland’s business community is on verge of a very different chapter. When the Augustine Commission was formed by the legislature, no one suspected that the Governor receiving the resulting legislation would be Larry Hogan. As Maryland settles into the trenches it usually does when we have a divided government, it’s promising that Maryland for the first time in a long time has a chance to reset its business climate and gain full advantage of the wealth of assets we have for the benefit of all of Maryland. Mike Miller, Michael Busch and Larry Hogan have a chance to find common ground on Maryland’s business climate by embracing House Bill 943 for the better of all of us.