One on One is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sunwith newsworthy business leaders. Donald P. Hutchinson, a former Baltimore County executive, is the new president of a merged Maryland Economic Growth Associates and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. The new group will be called the Maryland Chamber and Economic Development Associates.
Q. As the new president of the Maryland Chamber and Economic Development Associates, what do you believe will be new and improved about the organization?
Well, there will be a lot more [that's] improved than there will be new. I think that both organizations have been active in legislative affairs over the past several years. But the business community hasn't always spoken with one statewide voice. This will give us a greater opportunity to really represent business interests before the General Assembly and everybody will understand that the organizations that represent business are unified statewide on a particular issue. I also think that it will help us broaden our economic development activities because it will involve the broad-based Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development initiatives. MEGA has been a relatively small organization and our business leadership is limited in numbers. The Chamber will add significantly to that. And I think that will give us a great advantage.
Q. Who then made up MEGA?
A. Maryland Economic Growth Associates was originally created the mid 1980s by 65 different corporate leaders who felt that the corporate community needed a private-sector economic development arm. But they have been relatively, I hate to use the word exclusive because it means something that I don't mean to suggest, but it is a relatively small, tight group. The best example I can give you is, if we know that we have a potential investor out of New York or some place out of state, we may call the leadership of IBM, or we may call the leadership of Westvaco -- they are very active in the Chamber of Commerce [but] they are not active in MEGA. We may call them and ask them to get involved in the process and use whatever influence they might have to encourage investment here in the state that, basically, is not available to us today.
Q. With this new, large organization will you conflict with, for example, the Greater Baltimore Committee?
A. Well, we try not to conflict with the Greater Baltimore Committee. We have done our best to avoid that over the last several years. But I think everybody has to understand that while we share somewhat of the same constituency, our real goals and objectives might be different. The GBC will always have as a primary focus the welfare of Baltimore City. That is its rightful responsibility, rightful call. Whatever they might do in public policy will always have Baltimore as one of its major beneficiaries. The Chamber of Commerce and MEGA may have a broader view, may have a different little twist on an issue. MEGA has always looked at economic growth throughout the state as its exclusive priority and that isn't always compatible with what the GBC might think is important for Baltimore. We try to avoid the conflict but we can't guarantee that there won't be conflict.
LQ. What role would the organization play in Maryland politics?
A. Well, we won't play a role in politics per se, we'll play a role in government. We will try to impact decisions made by the General Assembly, decisions made by the governor, decisions made for the public works, local government decisions as they might impact business climate and business interest. We won't play an active, direct participatory role in the political process. We won't endorse candidates. We won't involve ourselves in political races and, in fact, the new bylaws of the new organizations say that if anybody wants to become a candidate for public office they have to leave -- that is, remove themselves from a relationship with the organization formally.
Q. How was that decided? With a group so large involving so many businesses one might think you could be a very strong and powerful Political Action Committee?
A. There are other business organizations to play that role. There's an organization called Maryland Business for Responsive Government. It is not appropriate for business organizations that will be representing business interest to be in a position where they will be endorsing candidates. You want to be on the right side of an issue. You want to prevail because your issue is to the benefit of the greatest number of people in the state. You don't want to be in the position of having to apply political pressure in order to achieve your goal. You also don't want to make enemies. You don't want to be in a position where you are endorsing candidates and then have to work with candidates that you opposed.
Q. How much time do you expect to spend lobbying for the new Maryland Chamber Economic Development Associates?