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Hogan unveils aid for businesses, extols his economic record at conference

“More Marylanders applied to start new businesses in 2021 than any other year in recent history,” says Gov. Larry Hogan, shown at a news conference earlier this year. (AP File Photo/Brian Witte)

Small businesses in Maryland could be eligible for $25 million in new state aid.

Gov. Larry Hogan announced a third round of grants through the Project Restore program as part of his remarks Tuesday at the Maryland Municipal League conference in Ocean City.

“More Marylanders applied to start new businesses in 2021 than any  other year in recent history,” said Hogan.

The conference marked a return to the beach town for the association that represents more than 100 incorporated towns and cities across the state. Hogan has attended all of the association conferences but one in 2015, when he was undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of blood cancer.

The announcement Tuesday is a repeat of Hogan’s initial rollout of Project Restore, which was also announced before the Maryland Municipal League.

Hogan said the aid is a continuation of his efforts to make the state more business friendly.

“We changed the entire mission of state government to be unabashedly pro-jobs and pro-business,” Hogan said. “We took Maryland’s overall economic performance from 49th out of 50 states to No. 6.”

Hogan said the new round of aid would “further this economic recovery and help incentivize new business growth on main streets and in downtown communities across our state.”

The announcement was part of a roughly 12-minute speech by the outgoing governor. The speech was part of a six-day tour of eastern Maryland that concludes Wednesday.

Hogan cited state unemployment rates that are “the lowest they’ve been since the pandemic.”

“Our economy is growing at the fastest rate since the pandemic,” he said.

Hogan said the $25 million in aid will be available beginning July 7.

The program created a year ago was meant to offer financial support to new and existing businesses and incentivize investment in vacant commercial and retail properties.

The aid included grants of as much as $30,000 for rent or mortgage payments or property improvements.

Businesses generating up to $250,000 in sales and use taxes were eligible for operating grants. The money could be used for improvements to existing property; salaries, marketing and inventory; and other costs associated with operating a business in a previously vacant property.

The initial program included $25 million in aid dolled out in two tranches.

The program was rolled out as part of an ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic that saw many businesses close or trim operations.

“In spite of all the pressures of COVID-19 and inflation and the supply chain crisis, we were able to keep most of our businesses open through the entire crisis,” Hogan said.

The governor’s speech was his last to the association. Hogan is finishing the final six months of his second and final term as governor.

During his speech, Hogan ticked off what he termed the accomplishments of his eight years in office, most notably what he said was nearly $5 billion in tax relief.

Included in that figure is nearly $1.5 billion in relief that was part of the 2021 Relief Act. That legislation represented the single largest tax reduction in state history until this year.

During the most recent session, Hogan and lawmakers reached a nearly $1.9 billion agreement that included reductions in taxes for retirees.

The governor has also typically included reductions in tolls made in his first term in discussions about tax and fee relief.

Hogan received some praise from the association for leading a charge to restore cuts in state road aid. More than a decade ago, the state slashed aid to counties and municipalities by 90% or more. Since 2015, Hogan has vowed to restore the aid.

“Without Governor Hogan every year putting in legislation to restore highway user revenues to local government, and without his tireless advocacy and relentless leadership this year, it wouldn’t have happened — wouldn’t have happened,” said Salisbury Mayor Jake Day, the outgoing president of the association.