By Donald C. Fry
For Maryland businesses and private-sector advocates who promote economic growth and job creation, the definition of a good business climate boils down to one word: competitiveness.
Two years ago, the Greater Baltimore Committee launched an ongoing initiative to articulate for Maryland’s elected leaders the basic elements of a competitive business climate. Eight core pillars for business growth were identified by the GBC through a year-long series of focus groups and feedback sessions with more than 50 Maryland CEOs and economic developers. The core pillars were published in the December 2010 report, “Gaining the Competitive Edge: Keys to Economic Growth and Job Creation in Maryland.”
Since then, as a key component of its business advocacy in Annapolis, the GBC has continually reminded our state’s policymakers of the core pillars and urged lawmakers to use them as a game plan around which to craft policies for competitiveness.
My recitation of the core pillars and the constant repetition of their importance is done on purpose because a disconnect remains in Annapolis between business advocates and lawmakers over what specifically constitutes a good business climate.
The GBC’s eight core pillars are:
• Government leadership that unites with business as a partner
• A workforce that is highly-educated and meets business needs
• Regulatory policies that are streamlined, stable and predictable
• A competitive and fair tax structure
• Competitive costs of doing business
• Superior transportation infrastructure with reliable funding
• Strategic and effective state investments in business growth
• A coordinated, long-term and well-funded business marketing strategy
Last year, a number of national organizations – including the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, the Council for Competitiveness, the National Association of Manufacturers and the national CEO-led Business Roundtable – issued recommendations to strengthen our nation’s competitiveness and to halt a U.S. slippage in global competitive rankings.
The groups came up with many of the same recommendations for the nation that the GBC developed for Maryland. Prominent on the national lists were reforming taxes, streamlining regulations, upgrading the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and creating a highly-skilled workforce to meet business needs, particularly in manufacturing, where CEOs lament their ability to find trained technical workers.
Recently, other Maryland business groups have joined the GBC’s call for a focus on competitiveness in Annapolis.
There appears to be near unanimity in business sectors in Maryland and nationally for urging our elected leaders to grasp the specific fundamentals of competitiveness and to act on that understanding to promote economic growth.
For business advocates who are seeking a greater focus in Annapolis on enacting policies to strengthen our state’s competitiveness, one might ask “how big is the challenge?” Unfortunately, it’s substantial.
Virtually all elected leaders in the State House profess a commitment to job generation. However, a GBC analysis of votes during the 2012 General Assembly session on a dozen key bills impacting business showed half of the votes cast by state delegates and senators supported policies that run counter to the core pillars for competitiveness.
Then there is the example cited in a November 9 USA Today article on competitiveness. It detailed efforts by a Maryland business to transfer some candle-making production from Thailand to Maryland by converting a former warehouse in the Baltimore area into a candle factory, creating 46 new jobs. The company’s owner described a permit-approval nightmare that took six months, cost the company $500,000 in revisions and engineering plans requested by government officials, and delayed the plant’s opening, USA Today reported.
This is hardly what we want the nation to be reading about Maryland and its approach to business and job creation.
These less-than-encouraging observations are anecdotal, to be sure. But they serve to underscore the room that exists for progress toward a stronger business climate in Maryland.
Maryland has significant strengths as a place for business development and growth. They include outstanding education resources, a major concentration of research activity, a highly-qualified workforce, an exceptional quality of life and the major advantage of our state’s midway location in one of the world’s biggest consumer markets – the densely-populated U.S. East Coast.
But for Maryland to fully realize its tremendous potential for economic growth and job creation, policymakers in Annapolis must keep the pillars of the “Gaining the Competitive Edge” report foremost on the agenda as they develop a better sense of what good policy for a competitive business climate looks like.