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New Md. chamber president is ready to listen

Christine Ross of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

Maryland Chamber of Commerce in May named Christine Ross its next president and CEO. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

After a nationwide search that took place over six months, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce in May named Christine Ross its next president and CEO. After just eight days on the job, Ross talked to The Daily Record about her plans for the chamber, her upcoming listening tour and her goals for Maryland’s business community.

What drew you to Maryland and this job?
I grew up in Northern Virginia and I lived in Olney, Maryland, for a time and I did all of my graduate work at the University of Maryland, University College, so this is a little bit like coming home again for me. I was also really very interested in the opportunities that are here because I see there’s a ton of potential. When you look at proximity, you look at the port (of Baltimore), you look at the amazing higher education institutions that are here and the work that’s going on, whether it be in health care or tech transfer. Those are assets that are just second to none.

You’ve held chamber of commerce-type positions across the country — in Florida and Massachusetts — do you have a process you go through to get acclimated to the business environment of where you are?

I did a lot of research leading up to even the interviews and continue to do research every day. I know that for instance with more than 6 million residents and an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent, we have a really good shot at being a leader globally if we can just make it a little more competitive and align education with the needs of the business community, I think it’s entirely possible to make Maryland the No. 1 place in the nation to do business.

When you first got the Maryland chamber job, you said you wanted to improve the state’s business climate and to “build bridges” between the state’s universities and business. What’s your sense of the relationship between universities and businesses now and what needs to be done differently?

Christine Ross. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Christine Ross. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

In order to have grads be more sticky and stay in the state, we have to make sure that they know where they could potentially work. The business community needs to be able to let the education system know what their future workforce needs are so that then we can be modifying curriculum, so that we can be enhancing community colleges and training degrees to fit what the jobs are going to be in the future.

I don’t know right now, here, that there’s a great communication channel, so if we can bridge that gap and connect the businesses directly to the universities we can solve that problem much more quickly.

Are there any skills in particular you’d like to target?

I don’t know the answer to that yet. I have to get that conversation going with the business community. … Part of the first 90 days of my term here is to have listening tour stops. I’m meeting with a lot of the major associations in the state. I’m curious to find out what they’re hearing and seeing and what their needs are.

What are your thoughts on some of the issues that have come up in the Legislature that relate to businesses? Paid sick leave, for example, has been a hot-button issue in Maryland for several years now.

I’m not ready to comment on any legislative issues. I’m still reviewing the positions that we had last session and haven’t yet met with the legislative committee, so it would be premature for me to say anything about any of those positions.

What’s your plan for this 90-day listening tour? Where are you stopping and who are you meeting?

My plan is to reach out to all 23 counties and independent cities in the state before the year is out. (I’m) making an effort to have meetings at various time of day to be available to as many people as possible and to ask them what they need from us so that as we move forward, we have an educated view. People are inundated these days with too many emails and are all overworked and so maybe going back to a little bit of the classic, face-to-face listening (…) will help me devise the path forward.

When you say people, you’re talking about business owners?

Business owners, chamber leaders, association leaders. I’m trying to get a variety of folks at the meetings. I have board members that are helping to convene a couple of people from various locations to augment that. I’m trying to reach out to organizations such as the cybersecurity association, Betamore, and gosh, you name it.

Is there a certain industry you’re particularly interested in?

I don’t think I could say that I have a specific industry that I’m interested in. From a personal level, the cybersecurity work that’s going on here now and really connecting anything technology related is very interesting. I think opportunities for manufacturing, enhancing that as part of the state’s role is great. Obviously the port is a big deal and then entrepreneurs like Kevin Plank and Under Armour. That attracts more entrepreneurs, and I’m very interested in the state of our entrepreneurial ecosystem.

This interview was edited and condensed.