A good time to change

Chamber president: Maryland group can improve business climate by expanding its agenda.

April 28, 1999

IN SELECTING a replacement for its departing president, Champe C. McCulloch, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce has a opportunity to reorient its image. The state's most prominent business advocate can appoint a replacement who understands that looking after the state's business interests means more than promoting an anti-tax, anti-regulatory agenda.

During his five-year tenure, Mr. McCulloch was better known for his harsh criticism of the state's business climate than for efforts to develop government programs that aid business.

Granted, Mr. McCulloch walked a tightrope. His constituents are primarily large businesses seeking lower taxes and less regulation, not the priorities of a Democratic governor or Democratic-led General Assembly.

Nonetheless, Mr. McCulloch's dogged efforts resulted in an across-the-board income tax reduction, a sensible brownfields redevelopment policy and reduction in workers' compensation costs. These measures, no doubt, will improve Maryland's standing in various national rankings of business climates, which are often treated as gospel. But tax reduction and elimination of bureaucratic red tape are not the sole ingredients needed to make Maryland hospitable to business.

The state needs a well-trained, productive work force, a top-flight port, airport and road network and safe, attractive communities. No business will remain in or be enticed to Maryland if high school graduates are unprepared for the world of work or if the road system is deteriorating. The Chamber of Commerce needs to put those items higher on its agenda in coming years.

The chamber doesn't have to be a cheerleader for the state. Plenty of organizations are available to promote Maryland. But it has to move beyond its narrow focus of late if it indeed is seeking to improve the state's business climate.

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