Maryland lawmakers aim to make improvements to business sphere

Finally, there's an area of agreement between Republican Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly — jump-starting economic development.

A year ago, top lawmakers recognized Gov. Martin O'Malley had relegated improvements to Maryland's business climate to the back burner.


So they created their own commission, led by retired Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, and asked the group to come up with ways to turn things around.

The result was 32 recommendations, all sensible and none of them novel. It won't take much for the Republican governor and Democratic legislators to find consensus.


"Our principal finding is that Maryland has not nearly reached its potential in growing business and creating jobs," the commission wrote.

Underlying the group's bipartisan nature is the fact that Hogan's budget secretary, former Sen. David Brinkley, served on the panel alongside Republican Del. Wendell Beitzel. Two key Democratic chairmen, Del. Dereck Davis and Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, were members.

Among others on the Augustine Commission: Brian Gibbons of Owings Mills-based Greenberg Gibbons, which is developing Foundry Row at Reisterstown Road and Painters Mill Boulevard, where the prime tenant will be Wegmans.

Here are a handful of the group's recommendations:

• Consolidate economic development programs, create one-stop shops for businesses and emphasize technology industries.

• Reverse the state's hostile, rule-enforcement approach toward businesses through customer-service training and a "What can I do to help?" attitude.

• Put the state's money into university-generated business development.

• Focus on unskilled high school graduates who need vocational training and apprenticeship programs.

One of the shocking findings was that 44 percent of Maryland's public school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and most come from minority families struggling to eke out a living.

Maryland's schools aren't giving them the right kind of education. These kids graduate without essential skill sets needed to find jobs. Their path up the economic ladder is blocked.

Even worse, there are jobs out there — 132,000 currently unfilled positions in the state. Employers told the commission they simply cannot find applicants who possess the right technical know-how.

This mismatch between education preparedness and job qualifications is one of society's weaknesses. Educators haven't addressed it. Neither have politicians.


They are too centered on creating college-prepared students. Everyone else in school is left to flounder with few, if any, employable abilities.

Hogan and legislators can start addressing this situation with some quick fixes.

Find a pot of money for the state's community colleges.

The Community College of Baltimore County already leads in job-training and apprenticeship programs. What's missing is a major investment from the state and the Kamenetz administration in more of these specialized job-skills courses.

The state also needs to offer local school systems extra funds if they bring back vocational education in a big way.

High school students should be pursuing career paths and job-readiness courses, especially those not interested in college.

Such an approach is sorely needed in low-performing districts like Baltimore City and Prince George's County, in rural jurisdictions and in struggling high schools in Baltimore County.

The good news is that both Hogan and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly are singing from the same hymnal.

The Augustine Commission concluded what's really needed is "a cultural change" that depends "on leadership, not money."

If each side commits to the objectives laid out by the panel, Maryland could make rapid progress in growing its business base and creating the kind of workforce companies are seeking.

Barry Rascovar, of Reisterstown, is a longtime political columnist. His columns can be found at http://www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be contacted at brascovar@hotmail.com.

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