If there's one thing the Schaefer administration knows how to do exceptionally well it is promote economic development. This was borne out again yesterday when Gov. William Donald Schaefer signed a "memorandum of understanding" with Kuwaiti officials to give Maryland a clear advantage in gaining port and air freight business from companies involved in rebuilding Kuwait. It was a real coup for the governor, and for the state's depressed economy.
This novel accord illustrates why Maryland shared highest ratings in the nation in a recent study compiled by the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a non-profit economic consulting and research firm. Not only did Maryland receive straight "A"s in four major economic-development categories, but the Free State became the only state ever to come out on top three years in a row.
That is quite an achievement. Gov. William Donald Schaefer deserves the credit, along with his energetic economic development secretary, J. Randall Evans. They have been tireless in their promotion of business and tourist growth.
CED's fifth annual report underlines that in spite of the current recession, Maryland possesses one of the strongest state economies around. The Free State continues to reap rewards stemming from the huge concentration of federal jobs and related private businesses located near the focus of national power in Washington, D.C.
But the report also noted some worrisome trends. It found, for instance, a yawning economic gap between Baltimore City and the rest of the state. The city-suburbs disparity is one of the sharpest in the country, according to the CED, and this could hurt the state's economic performance in future years.
Another major weakness is a lack of a "clearly articulated vision" on what the state hopes to achieve with its superlative economic development work. There is no long-range plan or performance measurement to tell officials if they are succeeding in reaching their goal.
Much of the study's criticisms can be addressed by legislators this summer when they re-visit the governor's plans for state land-use reform and an overhaul of the state's tax structure. If legislators are serious about coming to grips with these problems, Maryland could be on the road to narrowing the financial gap between rich and poor subdivisions and formulating a long-range economic development strategy.
The Schaefer administration has earned a gold star for its past effort. Yet it cannot rest on its laurels. It has to form a partnership with state legislators to ensure that Maryland remains ahead of its competitors in the race for future jobs and business investment.