Center Maryland: Meet Maryland’s new business ombudsman

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Editor’s note: The following commentary appeared on CenterMaryland.org on April 17, 2015.

By Donald C. Fry

Business people have long joked that, if you want to scare them, simply utter the following: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

Meet Roger Campos, Maryland’s newly-appointed business ombudsman. He’s from the government – he reports directly to Governor Larry Hogan – but he really is here to help, he told business owners and managers at the Greater Baltimore Committee earlier this week.

“There’s a fear factor among business owners in dealing with state and federal government agencies,” Campos said. For example, surveys show that in Maryland there is a high level of frustration among small business owners, particularly about rules, regulations and “misinterpretations” of rules and regulations, he added.

Campos, who has been on the job for only two months, is here to take that fear out of business relationships with government. “Part of my role is to find bottlenecks, issues and problems that you’re facing and then try to solve them,” he said.

Campos has already begun solving problems. He was recently approached by a business owner who was having issues with the Department of the Environment over a potential violation that carried a fine of $25,000 a day for illegal dumping.

Campos made a call to the department. “We solved the problem in less than an hour,” he said.

“We need your help and support to identify issues and concerns,” he told business owners. The governor has “made it very clear to our whole team – that includes the entire cabinet – that this is going to be an administration focused on pro-business growth and job creation.”

The state ombudsman position was created by legislation passed by the 2014 General Assembly. Campos appears to be well-suited for the job. He has decades of experience on both the private sector and federal sides of business advocacy and development.

He most recently served as CEO of the national Minority Business RoundTable. Among other things, he has also managed government relations for a Hispanic association of higher education institutions, headed an international network of consulting services on how to obtain government contracts, founded an aerospace and electronics firm and served as a special consultant to the Small Business Administration.

Campos said he realizes it’s going to take a long time to change the “culture of bureaucracy” in Maryland.

He wants to stay away from the politics of strengthening Maryland’s business climate. “I just want to focus on business,” Campos said. “My focus is about helping business owners create jobs the best way that we possibly can, reduce barriers and come up with common sense solutions.”

His work will be based on cooperation and building relationships, both within the business community and in state government, where his approach will be characterized by establishing “partnerships” with the secretaries of all state agencies.

One of Campos’ early priorities will be to sort out the wide array of business programs scattered throughout the state’s 20 departments and more than five dozen independent agencies and to create an overall inventory of them.

“I’m really surprised at how many programs there actually are,” Campos said.

About regulatory reform, a key need cited by many Maryland business owners, Campos said he expects to assist Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford on the issue. However, input from the business community will be vital to this work.

“We’re going to be reviewing a lot of the regulations that are burdensome to business owners,” he said. “But we need to know from business owners which regulations are the ones that are unnecessary and that are causing problems and issues. Without that kind of information, it’s very difficult for us to tackle it.”

Another key point of concern in the private sector is that Maryland’s bureaucracy lacks a sense of urgency in dealing with business issues and tends to be slow to act in making decisions, regulatory and otherwise, that affect businesses.

Can businesses call the ombudsman in instances where an answer or a state decision-making process is slow in coming?

Absolutely yes, Campos said. The governor “has told everyone in the cabinet that it’s about business and customer service – Number One.”

The new business ombudsman’s message mirrors a fundamental prerequisite among the eight core pillars compiled by the Greater Baltimore Committee for a competitive business climate – government that treats business as a partner, not an adversary.

The creation of a state business ombudsman has the potential to be significantly important to the private sector because it gives Maryland’s business owners and managers a fresh resource – a partner whose sole priority is to facilitate their success. And this partner reports directly to a governor who is making private sector growth and job creation the top priority priority of his administration.

Campos’ phone number is 410-974-5264 and his email is roger.campos@maryland.gov.

“If you do have issues, just call me,” Campos said..

Private sector leaders and business owners across the state need to do just that.  This represents a critical moment of opportunity to improve our state’s business climate. The business community must be sure to act on it.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.   

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