ANNAPOLIS – The state’s new secretary for economic development told lawmakers Tuesday that his top priority is to correct the negative perception – or misperception – people have of Maryland’s business climate.
“So I come into the office the first day, and I hear things like, `Maryland is a business hell,’ and `Virginia is eating our lunch,'” Richard C. “Mike” Lewin told the House Economic Matters Committee in an hourlong presentation.
“I don’t understand how reasonable people can say these things,” said Lewin, who was named secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development two months ago.
In just four years, he said, Maryland has gone from being 42nd in job creation to 16th. Dun and Bradstreet ranked the state fifth in new business starts last year, he said.
Lewin noted that unemployment is at a nine-year low and welfare roles were reduced by 100,000 people last year – nearly 50 percent.
“The vision I have for the future is a Greater Baltimore/Greater Washington combined market,” that reaches out to places like Western Maryland, he said.
Part of his vision includes an emphasis on technology.
California’s Silicon Valley may be the technology capital of the world, Lewin said, but San Jose has the highest cost of living in the nation. By comparison, Baltimore’s is 36th, which can be an attractive selling point for bringing technology jobs to Maryland.
“The land of pleasant living – where I grew up – offers a much better quality of life,” he said.
Lewin’s remarks, while short on details, were warmly received by the committee.
Delegate Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery County, said Lewin’s focus on technology is “a refreshing position” and Delegate Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, said Lewin’s attitude “is truly a breath of fresh air.”
“I think the whole committee appreciates your enthusiasm,” Delegate Michael Busch, D- Anne Arundel County, and chairman of the committee.”We hope to have a real cooperative effort over the next four years.”
Some of DBED’s legislative proposals include:
— Extending the job creation tax credit for five years, from the current cutoff of Jan. 1, 2002. The program lets a company to deduct up to $1,500 for each new, full-time job it creates, provided the firm creates at least 60 jobs in a two-year period and that they remain filled for at least 12 months.
— Creating the Maryland Competitive Advantage Loan Fund, a revolving loan fund providing loans of up to $100,000 to small and minority businesses with sales of less than $1 million. Gov. Parris Glendening has included $2 million in capital and operating funds for this program in his proposed fiscal 2000 budget.
— Starting a new Maryland Economic Development Assistance Fund to provide loans to major job-creation and retention projects. The governor has included $5 million in capital funds and $100,000 in operating funds for the program which, with the Competitive Advantage Loan Fund, would boost state-funded financing programs by 24 percent, to $38.6 million in fiscal 2000.
— And expanding the Partnership for Workforce Quality grant program to include employers with 500 or more workers. The program matches state funds to private funds for job training. Under the proposed expansion, large firms receiving a grant would be required to increase their purchases from small Maryland suppliers.