Q: Governor Larry Hogan took office in January. Since then we’ve been hearing that “Maryland is open for business?” Maryland isn’t the first state to adopt that slogan. So what does that really mean to you?
A: For Governor Hogan and the rest of us here that’s more than just a slogan. We really mean business in Maryland. In State government, we’re doing everything we can to get out of the way, to make things simpler, easier and less expensive for the businesses that call our great state home. We’re holding the line on taxes and working to simplify the regulations that have frustrated businesses in the past. This spring, in fact, Governor Hogan announced a toll cut on Maryland roadways starting July 1. That alone will save drivers $54 million a year.
As we speak, we’re in the process of revamping how our customer-facing agencies interact with the business community. That’s the main thing we’re changing in Maryland — at some point in the past we forgot who the customer is. Too many in state government thought they were the customer and constituents were here to serve them. That’s completely backwards. Our customers are the citizens of this State, the businesses located here now and all of those we’re going to bring here in the coming years.
The changes we’re making will elevate a “super-secretary” of Commerce in the governor’s cabinet. That person will oversee a commerce subcabinet comprised of all the agencies that deal regularly with the business community. That onus will be on that group, including our planning, regulation, licensing, transportation, environment, planning and other agencies, to ensure they put customer service front in center in their organizations.
And we’re not done. The changes we’re making now to the Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED) and the other agencies were recommended by a commission led by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine and comprised by some of the best and brightest minds in Maryland. They’re going back to work this summer to look at our tax structure and regulatory issues. I’m sure they’ll have another slate of exciting steps for us to take early next year.
Q: You’ve been in this job now for about six months. What have you learned?
A: It’s been an exciting transition, going from the outside, to inside looking out. The number one thing I’ve learned is how much Maryland has to offer. I used to drive by the Port of Baltimore and think “There’s a few cranes, a few ships.” I used to drive up the I-270 corridor outside of Washington D.C. and think “Huh, there’s a lot of development happening.” But being in this job has crystalized the meaning of the activity at the Port, along I-270 and all across Maryland. I drive by the Port now and think about the 100,000 or so jobs it supports and the nearly $53 billion in cargo that was shipped through there last year. That’s a record. I think about the 800,000 cars and other vehicles handled by the Port in 2014. That’s another record. And it’s more than that — Baltimore is the busiest auto port in the nation. But that’s not so surprising. They’re quick and efficient and we’re the closest East Coast port to the Midwest. In fact, Maryland is right in the sweet spot in the mid-Atlantic. From our state, you can get to about one-third of the U.S. population within an eight-hour drive. That’s more than 100 million consumers. You can be at their doorstep overnight.
I mentioned the I-270 corridor; that’s really the hub of our life sciences community. We have 550 life sciences companies in Maryland. That’s the fourth-largest cluster in the country, and we’re gunning for #3. We have the research base here, with the National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland and so many other assets. And we have the workforce — a lot of really smart, really talented, really well-educated people. Maryland is #1 in AP tests, #1 in PhD scientists and engineers, #2 in employed technical workers, and #3 in bachelor’s degrees.
There’s so much else going on. We are arguably the epicenter of cybersecurity innovation in this country with our public assets and growing community of cyber businesses. We’re looking at some major relocations and expansions. We were thrilled to announce in early May that McCormick & Co. is keeping its headquarters in Maryland and, hopefully, expanding its presence in spice racks around the world. Under Armour — Maryland’s own Under Armour is looking at a three million square foot redevelopment of South Baltimore. And we’re in the running for the new FBI headquarters in our Washington suburbs. It’s really an incredible time to be in Maryland.
Q: So that’s what is happening now. What are you working on in the longer term?
A: We have quite a few exciting projects going, including some really promising pieces of real estate across the state. There’s a very attractive site in Frederick. It has five buildings, about 450,000 square feet of office space in total. And Frederick is one of our most exciting communities, both from a business and leisure standpoint. It’s at the nexus of I-70 and I-270. Baltimore is a quick trip east and Washington D.C. is less than 50 miles southeast. I-81 and I-68 are both easily accessible to the west.
Just outside of Baltimore, we have a developer who has committed $50 million to redevelop Sparrows Point. The site was once a steel mill and still has the physical amenities that made it so attractive — robust road and rail access and deep-water channel. We see that 3,100-acre site one day being a major East Coast distribution hub, with everything from light manufacturing to logistics. We at DBED are working closely with the developers, local agencies and commercial real estate teams on both projects. We’re committed to finding new tenants for both.
Q: To finish up, what is one thing that really excites you about Maryland’s economy?
A: Our diversity. We have an incredible diversity of not only people and ideas in our State, but our economy is really impressive. Most people see Maryland and think “federal contractors” and, yes, the government drives a slice of our economy. But there’s so much more there for anyone who takes the time to look. I mentioned our strategic location before. That’s not just me saying that. Look at Hagerstown, near the intersection of I-81 and I-70. There are tens of millions of square feet of distribution centers out there right now. Drive by and you’ll see companies like Staples, Home Depot, Kellogg’s, Lenox and FedEx. And there’s room for more. One of the most exciting parts about that for us is you see Mack and Volvo trucks going in and out of those facilities every day. Most of the powertrains in them are coming from a plant right there in Hagerstown. We have a robust manufacturing base in Maryland. They grow more advanced every day because we have the workforce to operate the latest machinery and work with the advanced materials and cutting edge procedures.
I mentioned life sciences and cybersecurity before, but we’re also seeing exciting growth in health IT, education technology, and unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore are positioned to be national leaders in that UAV space with the military and research assets we have in place there. That diversity is key to our growth going forward. There’s a lot to be excited about in Maryland right now. We’re taking that around the country and worldwide. And it’s resonating.
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