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Dinegar talks Maryland, Virginia competition

Jim Dinegar, the president and CEO of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, has a unique point of view on the Maryland vs. Virginia economic development battle because his constituency hails from Northern Virginia, suburban Maryland and the city in between.

He briefed the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on Tuesday about a range of business issues, including the differences between Maryland and Virginia with a frankness that one doesn’t often see from business representatives.

One of the key factors that separates the states is the degree to which businesses can predict what action lawmakers will take in statehouses in Annapolis and Richmond, Dinegar said.

“You don’t have a reputation for being business friendly,” he told the committee. “The certainty, you don’t want people [in Annapolis] trying to battle on taxes. Decide. There’s a higher degree of certainty in Virginia.”

Maryland performs well in some nationwide business friendliness surveys, but almost never as well as Virginia.

“Your competitor is Virginia and they’re constantly eating your lunch,” Dinegar said.

On the Northrop Grumman sweepstakes, Dinegar said Maryland was close.

“I think you would be surprised how close Maryland was to attracting Northrop Grumman,” he said. “You’re not light years away from being competitive.”

But Virginia, too, has its faults.

The Board of Trade is big on transportation — they endorsed Gov. Martin O’Malley for reelection in 2010 largely because of his stance on the Purple Line and other transportation issues — but didn’t get on board with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell when he rolled out his $3 billion transportation agenda. After plans to fund it with offshore drilling and selling state-owned liquor stores fell through, the governor turned to borrowing.

“I think the next governor who gets in there is going to be saying ‘Wait, there’s nothing left?'” Dinegar said.

He said while Virginia stacks up well on the business side of the ledger, Maryland does better on the “social issues” that are becoming more important in addition to draws like quality of life and schools.

According to Dinegar, the “lack of a welcome mat” in Virginia for immigrants and gays “are some real liabilities” for the state.

As for Maryland’s shortcomings, Dinegar offered a few suggestions.

First, he said the state needs to do more transit-oriented development around existing infrastructure like the Metro stations around D.C. He also urged lawmakers to join the gold rush in natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation, part of which runs under Western Maryland.

And for a Washington guy, Dinegar was very bullish on the Port of Baltimore.

“It’s an asset that has the potential to grow greatly,” he said.

Ports America Chesapeake is expanding the state-owned Seagirt Marine Terminal to accommodate larger ships that will be coming through a wider, deeper Panama Canal. He said the state should look to paper products for more manufacturing opportunities. While paper pulp used to come from the Midwest, where the products are made, much of it now come from Eucalyptus trees in Brazil and through the marine terminals in Baltimore.