Who Speaks for Business?

November 04, 1994

Maryland has a split personality. It can't make up its mind how it wants to address economic development. Government efforts are episodic and disjointed with some agencies pulling in different directions. Business groups are ineffective and disorganized, with three different organizations claiming to represent segments of the private sector.

Who speaks for business? In this state, the answer is that there is no single voice. That has undermined efforts to create a forward-looking economic development strategy. It is a critical failure that the next governor -- be it Parris Glendening or Ellen Sauerbrey -- must address.

Reporter John E. Woodruff's three-part series in The Sun detailed the splits and divisions within the state when it comes to business development. It is not a pretty picture. The administration of Gov. William Donald Schaefer has done some admirable things in the past eight years to add jobs in Maryland, but its efforts have been effective only sporadically. Meanwhile, the business community cannot get its own act together.

No longer can this state afford to have the Greater Baltimore Committee at odds with the Maryland Business Council. The Washington Board of Trade is too important an ingredient in the state's business picture to be ignored. Meanwhile, Maryland Business for Responsive Government cannot continue to take potshots at other groups, grousing about their lack of adherence to a staunch conservative ideology. It is totally unproductive.

Two things are needed to get Maryland back on track. First, strong executive leadership at the top is essential. That's the job of the next governor, who must knock heads together -- if need be -- to make state government aggressively pro-business and come up with a long-range strategic plan to stimulate job growth. Second, top corporate leaders and the next governor must agree on a common strategy. A government-business game plan has to be devised and strongly supported by all parties.

The days of division and backbiting must come to an end. Maryland is struggling to recover from the recession, even as neighboring states are beginning to prosper once again. It is time for members of the corporate community to put their individual agendas aside in favor of a unified approach to business development.

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