Donald Fry: New state plan for growth offers sound strategies worth adopting

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By Donald C. Fry

A new five-year plan for strengthening our state’s economic growth compiled by a statewide commission of business executives delivers some important messages to Maryland’s elected leaders that they really need to hear.

The plan, released by Governor Martin O’Malley on April 14, was developed during the last year by the Maryland Economic Development Commission, of which I am an ex-officio member. The plan makes more than 50 recommendations under four key strategic categories: position Maryland for growth, build on existing strengths, embrace regional and economic diversity, and make it easy to do business and to live in Maryland.

Among these recommendations are many that reflect observations business and economic development leaders also made to the Greater Baltimore Committee last year that led to the GBC’s development of eight core pillars for job creation and economic growth, announced last December.

Here are just a few key messages that resonate within both the core pillars and the new economic development plan.

Effective partnering is crucial. Throughout the plan, the commission recommends increasing collaboration at many levels among state agencies, departments, and programs – ultimately to enable businesses to take full advantage of opportunities ranging from tech transfer to expanding into broader markets. Meaningful collaboration between the private sector, academic institutions, and government “will take the state much further than any single economic development program ever can,” the plan’s writers state.

The value of incentives and capital. The plan would require “significant public investment.” It calls for strengthening incentives to nurture commercial research and development through efforts geared to “unleashing private equity” and for protecting and enhancing the most effective existing state economic development financing tools.

Workforce development. The plan recommends cultivating a home-grown workforce through increasing access to community colleges for “re-tooling” skills, implementing a strong new set of core standards for K-12 grades to meet both higher education and employers’ requirements, imposing a strong emphasis on STEM education at all levels, and allowing the market to drive workforce training.

The importance of infrastructure. “Targeted physical infrastructure investments can have an outsized impact on physical growth,” the plan states. Among other things, the plan notes that Maryland needs a comprehensive highway and infrastructure strategy and should identify long-term sources of funding.

One of the plan’s four basic strategies deals specifically with a top overarching issue mentioned by business leaders and economic development experts who participated in the GBC’s study: make it easy to do business in Maryland.

The economic development commission’s first recommendation in this strategic category is to “instill a powerful culture of customer service” in state and local agencies that regulate business. Suggestions include creating an ombudsman’s office with authority to “break barriers” between state agencies.

The plan also calls for standardizing state licensing and permitting applications, implementing electronic licensing capabilities, coordinating complex reviews between state and local government agencies, and identifying obstacles that limit the ability of small, minority-owned, and women-owned firms to do business with the state.

These and many other recommendations in this new five-year growth strategy are welcomed by Maryland’s business community.

The approaches suggested in this plan are grounded in the reality that Maryland’s emergence from the recession will ultimately be driven by the private sector. This is something that all of the state’s elected leaders instinctively know, but collectively often have difficulty translating into policy.

That’s why, in noting that its recommendations focus largely on strategy, the commission added possibly the most important sentence in the entire report: “Skillful execution is as important as soundness of strategy.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

William Donald Schaefer’s transformative impact

Transportation funding: General Assembly ‘kicks the can’ down a pot hole filled road

‘Invest Maryland’ outcome will gauge depth of state commitment to early-stage funding

How does General Assembly measure up to core pillars of job creation?

Maryland’s jobs recovery is under way, but it’s sluggish

Maryland’s bioscience and technology industries are well worth nurturing

Maybe it’s time to change Maryland’s transportation funding model

Addressing the city’s towing kickback scandal head-on

Transportation funding bills get attention in Annapolis, but face major hurdles

Tapping into Maryland’s potential for innovation
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Donald C. Fry has been the president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), the central Maryland region's most prominent organization of business and civic leaders, since November 2002.

Under Don’s leadership, the GBC is recognized as a knowledgeable and highly credible business voice in the Baltimore region, Annapolis and Washington, D.C. on policy issues and competitive challenges facing Maryland. Its mission is to apply private-sector leadership to strengthening the business climate and quality of life in the region and state.

Fry served as GBC executive vice president from 1999 to 2002. From 1980 to 1999 Fry was engaged in a private law practice in Harford County. During this time he also served in the Maryland General Assembly. He is one of only a handful of legislators to have served on each of the major budget committees of the General Assembly.

Serving in the Senate of Maryland from 1997 to 1998, Fry was a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. As a member of the House of Delegates from 1991 to 1997 Fry served on the Ways and Means Committee and on the Appropriations Committee.

Fry is a 1979 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law. He earned a B.S. in political science from Frostburg State College.