www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-maryland-investment-20120820,0,593432.story

baltimoresun.com

Maryland needs a new plan for economic development

The state should aggressively market itself to foreign investors

By Rob Sobhani

6:00 AM EDT, August 20, 2012

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Maryland's economy is headed in the wrong direction. While the unemployment rate here is better than the national average, it remains high at 6.9 percent. What's more, Maryland actually lost 11,000 jobs in the month of June, the third highest loss in the country. With its natural resources and highly educated workforce, Maryland should be booming, not receding. What our state needs is a new vision to catapult its huge potential into a global reality.

Going global is the key. Thanks to our highly-ranked schools and universities, Maryland has a knowledge-based economy. But we can do even more to establish industrial hubs around nanotechnology, human genomics, cyber-security and health care and cancer research. We should also aggressively recruit investors from abroad to finance these enterprises.

America is the top destination for individuals seeking world-class medical attention. With the National Institutes for Health and Johns Hopkins University, Maryland should be the top of the top and a magnet for research dollars. We are, in fact, well-positioned to attract at least $1 billion in new investment from donors overseas who want to tackle deadly diseases and, in the process, save lives around the globe.

But we need to do more. State government policies should be made more pro-business. For example, even a modest reduction in our 8.25 percent corporate tax rate should be enacted to inspire companies to take a second look at relocating to Maryland.

We also need to work harder to support the businesses that are already here. The story of Larry Lorshbaugh is instructive. A 29-year employee of the Good Humor plant in Hagerstown, Lorshbaugh and 400 other workers are now out of a job. The plant, owned by Unilever, was shut down last month due to high costs. The owners decided that it would be cheaper to make ice cream in states like Tennessee and Missouri. Did Maryland officials fight to keep the plant? Not hard enough, apparently. These workers deserved better and, as a result of poor public planning, good paying jobs have been lost.

Maintaining a vibrant manufacturing sector must be a priority for our state. Doing so would help Maryland take advantage of its natural strength as a trading partner with the world. Take the example of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Last year, the UAE had a trade deficit with the U.S. of $16 billion. That means that the U.S. sold $16 billion more in goods and services to the UAE than the UAE sold here. Maryland ranked 19th among states with $172 million of the $16 billion in commerce.

Clearly, we can do more. Texas, California, Florida and other states are eating our lunch! By setting a target of boosting Maryland exports to the UAE to $1 billion, we can create good-paying jobs for thousands of Marylanders.

Here's a concrete example of how this might work. As Qatar gears up to host the World Cup in 2022, it plans to spend upward of $300 billion on infrastructure alone. Towson-based Black and Decker should be touted as the exclusive supplier of tools that will go into building that infrastructure. The question is: Is Maryland government doing enough to make that happen? Answer: We can do more.

We can also do more with our own infrastructure. Trade requires a top-flight infrastructure, yet we in Maryland are struggling with poor roads, congestion and old bridges. We need to build new roads and bridges of 21st century quality. Rather than raising taxes on our citizens and businesses, why not look abroad for help. We can take advantage of the $1 trillion in sovereign wealth funds that are out there looking for investment opportunities. Imagine tapping other countries' wealth to build better highways and, in the bargain, create thousands of good paying, Maryland construction jobs. Other states have experimented with this approach and it's worked.

Maryland can and should be a prime investment target for the world. Our economic fortunes can be improved if we vigorously embark on a multi-pronged approach that includes maximizing our knowledge-based economy, creating a more business-friendly environment, expanding our exports and attracting investment dollars to our state.

Rob Sobhani is CEO of Potomac -based Caspian Group Holdings, LLC and author of "King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: A Leader of Consequence." His email is sobhani@caspiangroup.com.