James T. Brady put the "business" back in Maryland economic development. Before he took over as secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development in the mid-1990s, the state agency was called the Department of Economic and Employment Development.
Brady thought the name should make a nod to the private sector, which produces most of the jobs in the state.
During his three years at the agency, Brady emphasized making Maryland more business-friendly at a time similar to this one, when the state was emerging from a severe recession. And he became familiar with both sides of the political aisle.
He eventually broke with then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, over what Brady described as a failure to promote business and Glendening's opposition to the Intercounty Connector. Brady resigned and became a Republican, endorsing losing candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey in the 1998 gubernatorial election and later leading the transition team of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as he prepared to enter office in late 2004.
These days, Brady runs the regional office of consultants Ballantrae International and sits on the boards of T. Rowe Price, McCormick & Co., Constellation Energy and NexCen Brands. Recently, he talked to The Baltimore Sun about the state's current business climate.
QUESTION: How would you rate the health of Maryland's private sector today?
ANSWER: Maryland doesn't have as many large companies as it had 20 years ago. But it still has a lot of very successful, good companies. The issue that exists in Maryland is that the state has not demonstrated a particular respect for business.
Q: Give me an example.
A: I think Constellation is probably the greatest one of all.
Q: You're talking about Gov. Martin O'Malley's criticism of Constellation and regulators' review of a multibillion-dollar investment in Constellation by EDF Group, the French utility?
A: Correct. And let me be clear on this: The state had not only a perfect right but a responsibility in my eyes to make sure that the ratepayers were protected. So I have no issue with that at all. But they brought a level of tonality to this whole thing as it relates to Constellation that I thought was incredibly negative. ... And that was totally unnecessary and was a message that I can tell you for a fact has been heard around the country.
Q:What should the state be doing now?
A: It has to make it very clear that the private sector is a very important part of the strategy. It has to develop a very comprehensive economic development strategy that isn't compartmentalized the way it is now.
Q: Comprehensive in the sense of including all industries?
A: All industries in terms of companies that are here and companies that could be attracted to come here. And I would emphasize, quite frankly, the former. ... Anyone in economic development will tell you that most of the jobs that are going to be created are going to be created by companies that are here. But they will only do that if they feel that this is an appropriate place to do that.
Q: You said strategy is "compartmentalized." With all the focus on technology and biotech, are certain industries being overlooked?
A: I don't see anything that represents a coherent strategy. So yes. I think biosciences and technology -- I would certainly be supportive of those being among the ones to emphasize. But I would also tell you that they are not the ones that in the short term are going to produce a lot of jobs.
Q: One of the messages that came out of the 1990s recession was that Maryland was too dependent on the federal government. Yet we may be more dependent than ever these days. What's your take?
A: It's one of the greatest challenges that we have in this state. ... It causes politicians to be less focused on the private sector. ... We're seeing it now. Politicians are saying, "We're doing better than most other states in this recession." Well, yeah. But it's not because of private-sector development. And to me, that's where the real juice is.
Q: You said Maryland puts obstacles in businesses' way. Does that include taxes?
A: I have always felt that while taxes are important, they are not the most important thing to business. They just are not. But they certainly do make a difference. The most important thing for business is to be in a state that is going to be supportive of their efforts, whether that's simply in permitting that doesn't take forever or just dealing with business in a respectful manner.
Q: Northrop Grumman, the huge defense contractor, is looking at Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., for headquarters locations. How competitive will Maryland be?
A: I'm not totally optimistic that they'll be able to compete effectively with Virginia, to be honest about it.