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Md. changes name, structure of economic development agency

Maryland officials promoted on Thursday a restructuring of the state's economic development arm, saying the newly named Department of Commerce will foster a more business-friendly culture.

The agency had been known as the Department of Business and Economic Development since the Glendening administration. Its name and structure were changed in April by legislation approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Larry Hogan. The law took effect Thursday.

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TheHogan administrationsaid it's more than a name change: The Commerce Department will also seek to better coordinate the state's economic developmentefforts through a new subcabinet to include leaders from the Departments of Labor, Licensing and Regulation; Transportation; Environment; Planning; and Housing and Community Development.

That structure, officials said, will make it easier to do business in Maryland.

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"If you think of economic development as a department, you're already behind the eight ball," said Secretary R. Michael Gill, who led DBED and will now head the agency under its new name. "If you think of economic development as a culture, then you're starting to get it."

The law, which had bipartisan support in Annapolis, named the agency the Department of Economic Competitiveness and Commerce. Hogan, a Republican, signed an executive order Thursday to shorten the name to the Department of Commerce.

The new name was already on the agency's website Thursday, but the administration will need to have the General Assembly make the official change.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., both Democrats, applauded the new department.

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"Maryland's business climate can be profoundly affected by state agencies whose activities are too often conducted as if unrelated to the economy," Busch said in a statement.

Relying on a staff of about 235 and a budget of $140 million, the agency provides financial assistance to attract and retain companies, and promotes the state to firms looking to launch or relocate.

Changes at the agency were long overdue, said Brien Poffenberger, president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

"When you called, you didn't get someone on the other end of the phone that could be an advocate for you," he said. "The idea is to create a department that has reach into other departments."

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