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Norman Augustine
Norman R. Augustine, chairman of a panel examining the state’s business climate. (File)

Panel may urge changes to DBED

A commission tasked with looking at the overall business climate in the state could recommend changes in the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

The agency is responsible for promoting business in the state as well as encouraging companies to move to Maryland at the same time it works with existing businesses to stay in the state and expand. It’s become the focus of the Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission, even though many of the complaints about taxes and regulation are outside the agency’s purview.

Even so, some commission members hinted at their discontent with the agency as some rankings appear to be feeding into the narrative that has been growing over the last eight years — the state is not a good place to do business.

“You can’t just look at the budget,” said Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Howard and Baltimore County. “There’s this subjective subject of leadership, of where does it rank in terms of the governor’s agenda? Who is running DBED? What’s the legislature’s reaction to this person? Is he dynamic, or she? Are things getting done? And that all relates to the total package of funding, competence. You just can’t look at the budget as the whole thing.”

The commission, which met for the second time since being created earlier this year by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., spent a significant amount of time during its first meeting on testimony from agency officials, including DBED Secretary Dominick E. Murray. And earlier this week, commission members were given an independent overview of the department by state analysts and heard a number of complaints from Western Maryland business leaders.

Despite the complaints, a spokeswoman for the department said it is important to remember the agency has had successes during economically challenging times.

Murray, through a spokeswoman, agreed with Kasemeyer’s assessment.

“He absolutely agrees that economic development is more than about the budget,” said Raquel Guillory. “It’s about helping companies fulfill their missions and meet their goals. It’s about moving jobs forward. Under Secretary Murray’s leadership we’ve been able to bring companies like Amazon to Maryland and focus on core industries by hiring a director of cyber development. We’ve provided dynamic leadership and (Murray) has always been available to legislators for discussions.”

The commission is expected to complete its recommendations in December so that they’d be ready for the incoming governor and General Assembly.

“If we are to do anything we need to get people’s attention,” said Norman R. Augustine, chairman of the commission. “And to do that, we should get at the facts — and some of the facts aren’t good.”

One of those facts includes Maryland’s ranking by Chief Executive Magazine as the 41st of 50 states that are best to do business in. Complaints cited in the ranking were over-regulation and high taxes as well as dissatisfaction with workforce quality.

Guillory said the Department of Business and Economic Development has little to do with those issues.

“What we do is we offer financial assistance to attract businesses to the state and to help retain and expand businesses that are already here,” she said. “We just don’t have any authority (over regulations and permitting).”

Augustine said he hopes to offer “a menu of options” in the recommendations — tiers of choices that legislators can then use to decide to implement, depending on if they want the state to be exceptional, above average or average when it comes to business climate.

“I think one of the things we can do is offer a menu of choices and say, ‘If you do this, this is what your life will be like and if you do that, this is what your life will be like,” Augustine said.

“I think if we do a good job, people will pay attention,” Augustine said. “Having the fortitude to do something is another story and only time will tell.”