By Len Lazarick
At the hot high-tech end of the Maryland economy Thursday, Gov. Martin O’Malley was cutting a ribbon to open a spiffy renovated building for cybersecurity firm Accuvant in Elkridge and hoping that Friday’s employment figures would show Maryland had regained all the jobs it lost since 2008.
Seven miles away at Paul’s Restaurant in Arbutus, Comptroller Peter Franchot was addressing representatives of not-so-hot legacy businesses and talking about “a sluggish economy” with “very poor wage growth” that led to Tuesday’s write-down of state revenue estimates for next year.
O’Malley’s glass was more than half-full, and Franchot’s glass needed a refill.
For O’Malley, innovation spurs recovery
For the governor, Maryland’s economic recovery was coming from the innovation economy represented by Accuvant, where there aren’t enough people to fill its jobs monitoring IT and Internet security for other companies.
“The opportunities are emerging more quickly than our skills are developing,” said O’Malley. He talked about the need to pump up workforce development and build up the skills pipeline at community colleges and universities.
“We have a lot of opportunities on the horizon,” O’Malley told reporters afterward.
He was puzzled when asked about a letter sent Tuesday from Maryland Business for Responsive Business Government asking him to set up a blue ribbon commission on Maryland’s business climate.
He apparently hadn’t seen the letter and noted “we have several commissions going” on economic sectors such life sciences. He also said the administration is working with the Maryland Chamber of Commerce following up on an economic summit. (The Department of Business and Economic Development has 12 boards and commissions on areas such as manufacturing, small business, tourism and venture capital.)
O’Malley also observed that much of his administration’s work with business is “sector specific,” recalling a meeting of 400 businesses doing business with NASA in Greenbelt and not generally represented in larger business groups. These businesses, he agreed, are often less concerned with taxes than they are with the pool of qualified workers and proximity to customers.
“It’s an election year” coming up, noted O’Malley, who will not be on the ballot, and it was not unusual for many groups to bring up the issues that most concern them.
Franchot not on cheerleading team
In Arbutus, Franchot, a Democrat who had just filed for his third term that morning, said, “I’m sorry I’m not part of the cheerleading group.”
“We’re facing some very fragile situations,” with slow wage growth hurting income tax collections, the comptroller said. Federal sequestration, the restoration of the Social Security payroll tax, and last year’s state income tax hike have hurt revenue growth.
A convert from the tax-and-spend orthodoxy that marked his 16 years in the legislature prior to 2007, Franchot said his Democratic Party has “mistakenly put the public sector budget in front of the private sector.”
He said the party needs to reverse its approach to budgeting, and stop passing new laws and taxes affecting business.
“A calmer three, four or five years would do wonders for the state’s reputation,” Franchot said. The unpredictability of Maryland’s policies is hurting it in the eyes of business.
“We need to rein government back in,” said Franchot, who got a warm reception from the more conservative leaning Arbutus crowd.
“Had he run for governor, he would have gotten a lot of votes in southwest Baltimore County,” said Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, who introduced Franchot. The comptroller had explored the race, but decided he could not win the Democratic primary against O’Malley’s partner, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.
Politics on O’Malley’s mind
That race also came up in O’Malley speech, as he introduced Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, Brown’s running mate.
“He was a leader in our state in improving broadband access,” O’Malley said of Ulman. “I also firmly believe he’s going to be an outstanding lieutenant governor.”
Another race was not far from O’Malley’s mind as he left Accuvant’s new headquarters near the Dorsey train station. He was saying his farewells to company co-founder Dan Burns, originally from Iowa, and communications director, Susan Vaillancourt, who lives in New Hampshire.
“We’ve got Iowa and New Hampshire covered,” he laughed, the first two states that will vote in the 2016 presidential primaries.