Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz talked a lot about lasers recently when he visited The Daily Record for a Maryland Newsmaker interview with our reporters and editors.
He wasn’t discussing medical treatment or the latest high-tech manufacturing techniques. He was talking about his strategy for using scarce resources to get the best possible return on investment of public funds for economic development.
“The difference with me is I’m trying to be laser-like in my focus — not spreading our resources too thin, not trying to be everything to everybody but really saying ‘What can we do to get the best bang for our buck immediately?’” Kamenetz explained.
“Industrial manufacturing jobs are not the jobs of the future in the county,” he continued. “Technology and information technology, health services, defense-oriented industries — these are things we need to focus on.”
We applaud Mr. Kamenetz’s approach. It’s the kind of new-reality-based thinking our elected leaders need to employ as they look for solutions and strategies in post-recession America.
As Exhibit A in his new approach, the county executive cited the steel mill at Sparrows Point. When owned by Bethlehem Steel, it was once the nation’s largest such facility with 31,000 employees. Now owned by OAO Severstal, a Russian steel and mining company, it is a shadow of its former self and has been shut down — but not officially closed — since July.
In the past, Baltimore County subsidized improvements at the mill, hoping to help it survive and thrive again. No more. Steel-making is no longer profitable there, so it’s time to look for new options, Mr. Kamenetz says. He will concentrate on marketing the site, with its highway and water access, for alternative uses if and when Severstal officially pulls the plug.
Elsewhere in the county, Mr. Kamenetz wants a “federal center” around the Social Security Administration headquarters in Woodlawn, a new emphasis on “quality, luxury” and “efficient” housing in Towson and redevelopment around the Owings Mills Metro stop. He envisions tearing down Owings Mills Mall and replacing it with an open-air retail complex like the Hunt Valley Towne Centre.
While he looks to channel resources into these projects, the county executive has cut 143 government positions and consolidated four departments — changes he says will save $8 million annually. And he wants the new Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections to function more efficiently than the old system and remove bureaucratic obstacles.
In making all of these changes, Mr. Kamenetz is seeking a new head for the county’s economic development agency — “someone from the business community who brings a more strategic approach.”
That is certainly his right and a fresh face and perspective may indeed be helpful. But the former head of that department, David Iannucci, served ably in that role and was state economic development secretary from 2000 to 2003. He will not be easily replaced.