Donald Fry: Small business is where innovation lives

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When I think of small businesses, I think of basements. That’s because the history of innovation and economic success in the U.S., and Maryland as well, has been shaped by so many businesses that began small – in basements, small shops or labs, and even barns.

General Electric traces its early growth to a Massachusetts barn in 1900. American aviation sprung from the Wright Brothers’ work during the late 1800s in their Ohio bicycle shop.

Locally, a major Maryland-based division of biotech giant Becton Dickinson was launched in 1935 in a Baltimore basement lab.

Baltimore’s Under Armour began in 1995 when its founder, Kevin Plank, worked in his grandmother’s basement on an idea he had for a drier, lighter tee shirt.

You get my point about small business. That’s why Governor Martin O’Malley has the right idea in focusing on initiatives to nurture small businesses in Maryland. His agenda for strengthening small businesses that includes streamlining the small business loan approval process and expanding access to business credit through a state loan-guarantee agency.

The governor also proposes a $3,000 tax credit for every unemployed worker any business hires and is seeking legislation to provide businesses relief from skyrocketing rates they must pay to the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

A major measure of any business climate is how government nurtures small businesses, which nationally employ more than half of the U.S. workforce. In Maryland, 60 percent of private-sector jobs are created by small businesses.

It’s smart for government to invest in fostering the development of small businesses because that’s where American innovation lives.

The recession has reminded all of us – in the private sector and in government – of a basic economic principle: government doesn’t create jobs. Businesses do.

Our leaders in Annapolis who are looking for a way out of the recession would do well to keep that in mind.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland, and he first aired this commentary on WYPR on January 26.
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Donald C. Fry has been the president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), the central Maryland region's most prominent organization of business and civic leaders, since November 2002.


Under Don’s leadership, the GBC is recognized as a knowledgeable and highly credible business voice in the Baltimore region, Annapolis and Washington, D.C. on policy issues and competitive challenges facing Maryland. Its mission is to apply private-sector leadership to strengthening the business climate and quality of life in the region and state.


Fry served as GBC executive vice president from 1999 to 2002. From 1980 to 1999 Fry was engaged in a private law practice in Harford County. During this time he also served in the Maryland General Assembly. He is one of only a handful of legislators to have served on each of the major budget committees of the General Assembly.


Serving in the Senate of Maryland from 1997 to 1998, Fry was a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. As a member of the House of Delegates from 1991 to 1997 Fry served on the Ways and Means Committee and on the Appropriations Committee.


Fry is a 1979 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law. He earned a B.S. in political science from Frostburg State College.