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Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: Anyone who wants to be Maryland’s next governor should listen to this guy | COMMENTARY

“Ensuring that everyone has a pathway to dignity is something we can and must do," says Mike Rosenbaum, executive chairman of Arena Analytics and former candidate for governor of Maryland.

Mike Rosenbaum dropped out of the campaign for governor before most of us knew he was running. He announced his candidacy last May and quietly withdrew in November, seeing no path to victory in a crowded field of candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in Maryland’s June primary.

His campaign is finished, but Rosenbaum is not. His big ideas remain. They are potentially transformative for a generation of Marylanders, and it would be a shame if the next governor did not consider them.

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Rosenbaum, a successful tech entrepreneur with a vigorous social conscience, sees a way to redirect some of the state’s vast resources to make Maryland’s workforce the most skilled in the nation and raise the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people. While other candidates usually speak of being pro-business, Rosenbaum is pro-worker — that is, he’s focused on creating careers with better-paying jobs so that more of its citizens share in the wealth of Maryland’s economy.

“As one of the richest states in the richest country in the world,” Rosenbaum says, “the fact that anyone is stuck in a job that does not provide enough to raise a family and live a good life — that anyone is in poverty, period — is a systemic failure in Maryland, and it doesn’t have to be this way.”

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Before I get into his plan, here’s what you need to know about the man: Rosenbaum is 50 years old, a graduate of Harvard and the London School of Economics, with degrees in law and economics. In the 1990s, he worked as an adviser in the Clinton White House, but disagreed with the administration’s approach to building job opportunities in neglected, low-income communities. Rosenbaum believed too many Americans were being left out of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy. He had the audacious idea that people who lacked the right pedigree in social class and education should not have to settle for low-income jobs. And, along with that, he believed that companies were missing the most skilled and dependable workers because employers relied too heavily on resumes and instinct to guide their hiring.

So, two decades ago, Rosenbaum and partners set out to develop a way to use big data to find the most talented people to become software engineers. They believed the right skills set could be found in far more places than companies looked. Some of the men and women pushing brooms or making Big Macs probably had the aptitudes necessary to design and develop software; they just needed an opportunity to prove it.

So Rosenbaum’s Baltimore-based company, Catalyte, finds talent in unexpected places, using algorithms to predict an individual’s ability to grasp and implement software principles and excel at development. The company claims the engineers it finds take less time to train and are more productive than those hired via resume.

Rosenbaum’s system also boasts significant reductions in employee turnover — as much as 38% in hospitals and nursing homes that have used Arena Analytics, a second company he established to identify the best workers to hire and promote in health care.

Employers have fewer hiring failures while employees move into fields they might never have considered, with higher salaries and better benefits that move them up the socioeconomic ladder.

That’s the part Rosenbaum wanted to take into the public sphere.

As governor of Maryland, he said, his central goal would be to ramp up skills training for thousands of people in four fields — technology, health care, skilled trades and manufacturing — that have the most openings and offer the kind of salaries (at least $60,000 a year) needed to keep pace with the cost of living.

In terms of household income, Maryland for years has ranked at or near the very top of states. Yet it underperforms in job growth and, more importantly, says Rosenbaum, in jobs that pay enough to move more Marylanders into the middle class. (A recent analysis of metropolitan areas by the Indeed jobs site ranked the Baltimore-Towson-Columbia region as one of the slowest for jobs growth over the last two years.)

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Rosenbaum’s plan calls for the state to fund (at $15 per hour) the apprentice training of 20,000 people in the first year, with thousands more over the next eight, paid with increased revenue from income taxes generated by greater numbers of Marylanders — hundreds of thousands, Rosenbaum says — earning higher salaries from private employers.

“We need to fundamentally reorient our public spending around the causes of issues rather than the symptoms of those issues,” he says. “Ensuring that everyone has a pathway to dignity — meaning a job that pays at least $60,000 a year, since the average income required to rent a two-bedroom apartment in this state is $28.60 per hour — is something we can and must do.”

The benefit to the state would be a larger and better trained workforce attractive to companies, an expanded tax base and fewer families needing government support. “We end up netting $2 billion to $3 billion a year structurally — not one-time cash from the sky — in the state budget,” Rosenbaum says.

If all this sounds too good to be true, it’s because we think about economic development in conventional ways — incentivizing companies to relocate to Maryland rather than building a workforce to meet present and future demands. And conventional thinking never leads to the kind of transformation Mike Rosenbaum believes possible.

Anyone who wants to be governor should be listening to this guy.


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