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Hogan's Maryland: open for big business

Driving home to Baltimore from a meeting with a potential new customer one cold February afternoon, my wife and I chuckled when we crossed the state border. In addition to "Maryland Welcomes You," our state's "Enjoy Your Visit!" sign on Route 15 now read, "We're Open for Business," followed by Gov. Larry Hogan's signature.

I'd like to make our new Maryland greeting a bit more honest by inserting one word toward the end. It should read: "We're open for big business."

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During his first week in office, Mr. Hogan stalled regulations on how much chicken manure big companies like Perdue can dump in places where it will flow into the Chesapeake Bay. Instead, our Republican governor played go-between for the big farm companies and environmental groups.

As a small business owner in Maryland, will my company see a rise in profits thanks to Mr. Hogan playing referee on how much chicken doody can be dumped in the bay? No. In fact, I can't think of any responsible small business owner who will benefit. Can you?

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Mr. Hogan's ardent pro-business attitude is really all about helping big corporations continue their big-time polluting. I regularly advise young entrepreneurs who are looking to start new businesses. I can assure you that very few of these enterprising millennials are interested in opening a business that pollutes the Chesapeake Bay.

Another regulation Mr. Hogan objects to would limit the smog coal-burning power plants can emit. I don't know about you, but when I think of coal-fired power stations I certainly don't think of mom-and-pop businesses struggling to get by. These power plants belong to out-of-state and foreign businesses that don't care about rising rates of asthma in our children. Protecting our children and seniors from air pollution matters more to me than helping Texan and French energy executives make big profits.

Mr. Hogan's only making a bad situation worse. Our last governor, Democrat Martin O'Malley, was constantly putting the needs of big business above Maryland communities and our environment.

Last year, I attended a few meetings of what's called a community wealth building group. Together, we strategized about how to draw more dollars into local Maryland communities to ensure vital, thriving, healthy neighborhoods.

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Once a month — at the crack of dawn, over stale bagels and burnt coffee — a group of entrepreneurs, young professionals, local college professors and community members working with nonprofits came together at the University of Baltimore. We met for over a year to discuss what the Baltimore area really needs in order to grow economically. A central theme to our work quickly became apparent: More small business growth leads to healthier communities.

We asked young and struggling entrepreneurs what they really wanted for their small business. The No. 1 answer was getting a shot at business deals that were usually reserved only for large firms.

Our team didn't assess government contracts. Instead, we assessed small businesses that were working with all sorts of large institutions. What company was cleaning the linens at the University of Maryland Medical Center hospital? Were any Maryland farms able to sell produce to the Baltimore City School district for school lunches? Was there a local supplier of pencils that we could connect with the University of Baltimore?

The answers to these questions confirmed our suspicions. Local entrepreneurs are hustling to survive out there. They certainly aren't getting the same treatment as the big corporations. Over and over again, large institutions are choosing to source from the same big-guy suppliers. The No. 1 reason isn't price; it's simply force of habit.

The big guys know how to play the game and get the contracts. The mom and pop small businesses are always left in the dust.

Who will benefit from Mr. Hogan's "we're open for business" outlook?

It's not young, hungry, responsible entrepreneurs who are eager to work hard and make a name for their businesses. But Maryland should do more for small firms, including startups and small businesses.

If Mr. Hogan got our state to help the little guys, then maybe his new greeting wouldn't make me laugh.

Ian Schlakman, an information technology entrepreneur, ran as the Green Party's candidate to represent Maryland's 2nd District in Congress last year. He lives in Baltimore and is a New Economy Maryland fellow. His email is  info@ian42.com.

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