In hopes of creating more opportunities and partnerships with the private sector, Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced yesterday the appointment of a well-heeled Maryland business executive as head of the Department of Business and Economic Development.
Ehrlich nominated 40-year business veteran Aris Melissaratos, 59, of Linthicum to lead the department that he said will be the cornerstone of his administration.
Ehrlich and Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele campaigned as strong advocates of small-business development, and they hope the Greek immigrant will be their point man.
Melissaratos is a former executive with Westinghouse Electric Corp., where he was vice president of science and technology and chief technology officer at corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh.
He also worked 25 years at the Baltimore Electronics Systems Group (now Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems) as vice president and general manager of the design, engineering and manufacturing operations divisions.
Most recently, Melissaratos ran his own firm, Armel Private Equity Investments, before accepting the post with the Ehrlich-Steele administration.
"DBED in this administration is going to be where the action is," Ehrlich said during a news conference in Annapolis yesterday, noting that he and Steele are business lawyers. Melissaratos "shares our passion," the governor-elect said.
Melissaratos said he intends to help bring more manufacturing jobs to the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland, while expanding minority business opportunities throughout the state. He said the state needs to increase the mentoring of small businesses to help them remain viable.
To support such business growth, Melissaratos said, the state needs to improve Maryland's transportation system, particularly by building the Intercounty Connector across Montgomery County.
He said the state will need to raise the gasoline tax to finance some of these projects. Such a tax increase would make Maryland more conducive to business growth, he said.
"We've got to erase the barrier of a bad business climate," he said. "We need to work together. I like to be a bridge builder."
Ehrlich said he plans to travel across the state with Melissaratos and sit at the table to negotiate business deals. Melissaratos also will work with Steele, who has interest in minority business development, Ehrlich said.
After leaving Greece at age 7, Melissaratos grew up in Baltimore, where he worked and later ran Eastwood Bakery with his father.
He left the bakery business and pursued a career in engi- neering, receiving his under- graduate degree in electrical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University and a master's degree in engineering management from George Washington University.
In addition to his work at Westinghouse and Baltimore Electronics, Melissaratos was a corporate vice president for Thermo Electron Corp. and president and chief executive officer of Coleman Research Corp. and Thermo Coleman Corp.
Melissaratos said his accountants are reviewing his assets. He is divesting his business interests and will recuse himself from any potential conflicts of interest. He is one of the few top Cabinet nominees in the Ehrlich administration without a substantial political background.
"You're going to get quite an education in politics," Ehrlich told Melissaratos during the news conference.
Melissaratos is a longtime friend of James T. Brady, who is running Ehrlich's transition team. Melissaratos said he met Brady while at Westinghouse.
Brady, who was economic development secretary under Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said Melissaratos will be a solid leader who brings high energy to the job.
"I was thrilled to know that someone of Aris' background was not only willing but anxious to serve in the public sector," Brady said.
Ehrlich also nominated Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill for adjutant general of Maryland. Tuxill has been assistant adjutant general since 1993.
As adjutant general, Tuxill will be responsible for the Maryland Military Department, which includes the Maryland Army National Guard, the Maryland Air National Guard, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and the Maryland Defense Force.