HAGERSTOWN — Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler brought his all-but-official campaign for governor to Western Maryland on Friday, pledging to help rebuild the state's manufacturing base by giving Maryland companies preference in securing government contracts.
Gansler, speaking at a United Auto Workers union hall near Hagerstown's Mack Truck/Volvo plant, laid out a seven-point plan to increase the manufacturing sector, which he said now ranks 43rd in the nation.
The most significant of those steps would be a reversal of Maryland's decades-old policy of letting in-state and out-of-state companies compete on an equal basis for billions of dollars annually in state contracts.
"You would have as a significant factor whether or not that product was made in Maryland," Gansler said. He expressed regret that Maryland has purchased trucks from out-of-state companies that could have been bought from Mack.
The idea was welcomed by many of the roughly two dozen who attended.
"That could help our business," said Wade Watson, vice president of operations for Volvo in Hagerstown.
Gansler, who is expected to compete in the June 2014 primary for the Democratic nomination, said he sees no downside to giving Maryland firms a break because other states already give a preference to their producers when they seek bidders.
"We're in a competitive disadvantage," Gansler told reporters after his presentation, one in series of issues-oriented events he's holding around the state before his planned September announcement.
Gansler did not offer specifics of how great a preference he would extend to Maryland companies in bidding against out-of-state firms. States are not permitted to apply local preferences to contracts that are financed in part by federal dollars — putting a huge chunk of state business off-limits for Gansler's proposal.
According to the state of Oregon, which tracks such matters, Maryland is one of 38 states (and the District of Columbia) that maintain a roughly level playing field in bidding between in-state and out-of-state firms. Another 13 offer some kind of advantage to home-state companies.
Justin Schall, campaign manager for Gansler rival Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, said Gansler's proposal would backfire.
"If Maryland favors in-state companies, when Maryland companies go to do business outside of Maryland, they would face penalties, which would make it certainly a job killer," Schall said.
Gansler delivered his message in a city that was once the hub of a robust Western Maryland manufacturing industry. He said one of his aims is to restore manufacturing jobs to the region.
"Manufacturing is not just an important part of our past, it should be an important part of our future," he said.
In an implicit criticism of the O'Malley-Brown administration, Gansler identified excessive taxation and over-regulation as key factors inhibiting manufacturing in Maryland. His presentation Friday, however, did not specifically address those concerns.
Instead Gansler focused on such matters as workforce development programs, training in manufacturing skills for students, ad campaigns to encourage the purchase of Maryland-made products and tax credits to promote manufacturing and green industries.