Gov. William Donald Schaefer combined a plea to Maryland merchants to aggressively woo shoppers with an announcement that, for the state's part, he will accelerate 142 construction projects worth about $270 million.
The double-pronged plan is designed to inject life back into the state's economy by stimulating job growth and encouraging consumers to start spending again.
Speaking amidst a crowd of lunchtime shoppers at Owings Mills Mall, Schaefer said that over the next several months the state will move up the starting dates on the 142 construction projects in an effort to create jobs and further stir the economy.
"People need work and now is the time," Schaefer said.
Under the proposal, the state would shorten the time it takes to get construction projects under way by an average of one week to six months. This would be accomplished by compressing review schedules, having more frequent bond sales and stepping up design timetables, the governor said.
All of the projects are ones for which federal, state and local dollars have already been earmarked but starting dates were generally months away.
There was no estimate of the number of jobs that expediting the construction projects might create.
Schaefer spokesman Frank Traynor, however, offered an economic development formula suggesting that approximately 5,600 people would be involved in construction and non-construction jobs as a result of the speeded-up program.
Among the projects to be awarded an earlier-than-anticipated contract is the Md. 100 construction project that would link Interstate 95 to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
That $57 million project, which was originally slated to have its contract award in December of 1992, will have its contract awarded in January of next year under the governor's program.
Traynor said the Md. 100 project alone will employ 1,400 people.
Schaefer also used the occasion to challenge the business community to create incentives for people to shop in Maryland stores, including the suggestion that major discounts be offered to encourage holiday shopping.
Schaefer said the efforts unveiled would not affect budget cuts already announced by the state, but might avert future reductions.
"If we don't do something for the economy . . . and those sales tax revenues aren't there for the months of November, December and January, we may be facing further cuts," Schaefer warned.
Donald P. Hutchinson, president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, used the occasion to announce that the chamber and a group of state trade associations would launch a series of inducements and discounts to bring buyers back to the Maryland stores.
One of the programs includes offering homebuyers free insurance against loss of employment. The insurance policy, offered by builder Michael Beccio, president of Beccio Homes Inc. of Owings Mills, covers mortgage payments for up to 12 months if the homeowner is laid off.
Hutchinson said Beccio is working with his insurance company toexpand the offer to not only other Maryland builders but also to cover such large-ticket items as autos, appliances and furniture.
Other efforts include a series of promotional discounts being developed to attract consumers to Maryland stores, hotels, restaurants and attractions.
Hutchinson said the choice of Owings Mills Mall was ideal for the announcements yesterday because it was he and Schaefer who cut the ribbon that opened the mall six years ago.
Reaction to Schaefer's initiative was mixed among merchants at the mall yesterday.
Scott Johnson, the 30-year-old manager of Hamburgers, said he has already begun an aggressive effort to pull in shoppers for the holidays.
He recently approached a nearby insurance brokerage with the idea of offering a special discount exclusively to the company's employees. It may be the first time a Hamburgers location has gone beyond traditional promotions to target specific customers of a local firm.
Johnson explained his aggressive tactics, saying that while his store's sales volume has been "OK," he wants to leave nothing to chance.
"We're going to have to do anything to get customers in here," he said. "We can no longer wait for them to walk in the door."
Other merchants were pessimistic. One storekeeper, who asked not to be identified, expressed skepticism about the governor's general handling of the state's budget crisis.
"It seems to me that he wanted to raise taxes, but he knew it would be unpopular," the merchant said. "So he went after people's jobs and ended up hurting people. When all along, if he wanted to raise taxes, he should have been up front about it."