Md.'s economic strategists hit ground running


The Maryland Economic Development Commission apparently didn't take long in getting down to serious business. It went into closed session yesterday at its first-ever meeting.

The commission, a high-powered lineup of Maryland business and organization executives recruited by the Glendening administration to help the state set economic development strategy, transacted little substantive business in the open portion of its maiden gathering.

But after a pep talk by the governor's new economic development secretary and a briefing from staff members, the commission ushered reporters out. A spokeswoman for the Department of Employment and Economic Development cited a provision of the state open meetings law that lets agencies exclude the public when discussing matters involving state efforts to attract or retain a specific business.

Jane Howard, the DEED spokeswoman, said the commission discussed two specific companies, which she declined to identify. "One was a new company and one was an expansion," she said.

James T. Brady, recently sworn in as Maryland's economic development secretary, told commission members that they were at the head of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's effort to forge a "public-private partnership" to promote the state's economic interests. "If we leave economic development to government, it's going to fail," he said.

He urged members to take an active role in identifying problems that have hampered Maryland's economic development efforts. "Challenge us. Make us be as good as we can be," he said.

During a break, Mr. Brady said the unpaid commission members, who were named in February, had been active even before the first meeting. He said some of the members have already had contacts with prospective Maryland employers on behalf of the state.

"They're going to get us to work marketing. This is not just ceremonial," said Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the University of Maryland System and an ex officio member of the commission.

The 21-member commission is led by co-chairmen Joseph Haskins Jr., president of the Harbor Bank of Maryland, and Tom Ferguson, retired president of the Washington Post Co. Most of the members are high-ranking executives from the private sector. Ed Mohler, president of the state AFL-CIO, represents labor on the panel.

In their introductory remarks, many of the members compared the state's economic developments with those of nearby states -- notably Virginia and North Carolina -- and found Maryland wanting.

"One of the major complaints we hear consistently is who do you talk to in this state," said commission member Randall Griffin, president of Constellation Real Estate. "It's a very confusing image that we put out there compared with other states."

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