Augustine panel sets agenda to bolster business in Md.

Panel headed by Norman Augustine recommends 32 steps to improve business climate.

Declaring that Maryland can no longer depend on the federal government for job growth, former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman R. Augustine presented state legislators Thursday with a list of steps they could take to improve its ability to compete for business.

Among the 32 recommendations is the appointment of a secretary of commerce to oversee the existing Department of Business Development and other agencies.

Augustine, one of the state's best-known business leaders, headed a commission that spent the past year looking at ways to improve Maryland's business climate, which became a critical issue during the 2014 gubernatorial election won by Republican Larry Hogan.

Augustine stressed the need to bolster the private sector in Maryland.

"Federal jobs and federal business are clearly going to decline," he said. "We also need to diversify our base of business beyond the federal government."

The commission, an initiative of state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, developed a series of policy proposals that will be incorporated in five bills to be introduced during the 90-day legislative session.

"This report is going to be a sea change in the way we do business in the state of Maryland," Miller said.

At a news conference in Greenbelt, Hogan said he discussed the plan's general outline with Miller and Busch on Thursday morning during a meeting with fiscal leaders. He praised the two Democrats for their efforts to make Maryland more competitive.

"We're in agreement on the goal," Hogan said. "I think there's a lot of things that we're going to find agreement on, and we all pledge to try to work together to make Maryland more competitive and create more jobs and more opportunities for our citizens."

Among the recommendations is the creation of the office of a commerce chief, described by a top Hogan aide as a "super-secretary" who would have direct authority over DBED and the Maryland Technology Development Corp. as well as exert a strong influence over other departments that interact with business.

But Joseph M. Getty, Hogan's legislative director, said the administration does not envision creating a new department of state government.

The commission was composed of legislators from both parties, business and labor leaders, and representatives of the state's universities and colleges.

The group presented its report Thursday at a news conference that included members of the Hogan administration and the Democratic leadership of the General Assembly, who put aside their differences over taxes and spending to support the commission's findings. One of the members was former Republican state Sen. David R. Brinkley, who is now Hogan's budget secretary.

The panel recommended a comprehensive retraining of state employees who deal with businesses to put more emphasis on customer service and less on enforcing rules. It urged the state to give some state employees the task of helping businesses navigate the sometimes-confusing process of obtaining needed permits.

The commission recommended that Maryland bolster its efforts to move technology developed in the state's universities into the marketplace and suggested a pilot apprenticeship program to create more employment opportunities for young people.

The commission steered clear of the politically charged topics of state spending and taxation. Augustine said the panel will go back to work and produce a report on those issues.

Augustine, a former acting secretary of the Army who headed Martin Marietta Corp. before it became Lockheed Martin, warned that implementing the panel's recommendations won't come free. Among other things, the panel called for making higher education funding a priority and expediting plans to upgrade transportation infrastructure in the Baltimore-Washington region.

"Some of these things do require investment," he said. "If you don't invest in the future, you are looking forward to a future most people don't want."

mdresser@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
46°