Donald Fry: In Annapolis, a step toward a shared vision for competitiveness

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By: Donald C. Fry 

Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch sent an encouraging signal to Maryland’s private sector last Friday morning when they announced a joint legislative agenda for business and economic development in the state.

Agenda action items  include establishing a private-sector commission to review Maryland’s support for economic development and creating “ reduced tax” zones, a new cyber seed investment fund and an initiative to develop matching private-sector funding for university  research to nurture science and technology industry growth.

The agenda, announced during a joint news briefing that I attended with leaders in business and higher education, also calls for easing our state’s estate tax burden, establishing an entrepreneurial skills development program, improving customer service in state agencies and improving transparency on Maryland income tax forms.

Following are summaries of specifics of the joint agenda outlined in a news release issued Friday.

The private-sector commission will be chaired by Norman Augustine, former acting secretary of the Army, president of Lockheed Martin and chairman of the American Red Cross. Members of the commission, who will be announced within two weeks, will focus on the state’s economic development structure and incentive programs.  General Assembly leaders are seeking recommendations by the end of the year.

The reduced tax zones, to be proposed in legislation, sponsored by Senator Catherine E. Pugh, D-Baltimore City, and Delegate Jay Walker, D-Prince George’s, would support investment around “anchor” institutions.  Businesses in such zones – to be known as Regional Institution Strategic Enterprise (RISE) Districts – could take advantage of tools including enhanced property tax and income tax credits and accelerated depreciation schedules, according to information released Friday.

The cyber seed investment fund, to be proposed  in legislation sponsored by Senator James E. DeGrange, Sr., D-Anne Arundel, and Delegate Pamela Beidle, D-Anne Arundel, will be modeled after the state’s Technology Commercialization Fund administered by TEDCO, Maryland’s tech transfer organization.  The fund would make investments in early-stage cyber security companies developing products for commercial and government markets. Private-sector investors in the fund would receive tax credits.

Matching private-sector funding for university research endowments would be developed through the Maryland E-nnovation Initiative to be proposed in legislation sponsored by Senate President Miller, D-Prince George’s/Calvert, and Delegate John L. Bohanan, Jr, D-St. Mary’s.  Similar to the existing InvestMaryland program, this initiative would be funded though auctioning tax credits to the private sector.

Recoupling Maryland’s estate tax to federal criteria to ease the tax’s burden will be the subject of legislation to be sponsored by Senate President Miller and House Speaker Busch.  The legislation will propose raising, over a four-year period, Maryland’s threshold for taxing estates from $1 million currently to the federal estate tax threshold of more than $5 million.

Improved transparency on tax forms will be proposed in legislation sponsored by Senator  Roger P. Manno, D-Montgomery, and Delegate Galen R. Clagett, D-Frederick.  The legislation would require information on each state tax form showing how tax dollars are being spent.

The proposed entrepreneur support and skill development program would provide “in-depth, sustained executive support” for entrepreneurs’ to hone their management skills.

A proposal to improve customer service calls for key state agencies “that frequently engage with the private sector” to take advantage of customer service training opportunities for employees and to issue customer service satisfaction questionnaires.  

As a long-time advocate for improving Maryland’s competitiveness for business development and job growth, it’s “ground-breaking” to see Maryland’s top legislative leaders come together to support an agenda that is so heavily focused on economic development.

These proposals reflect many of the core pillars for a strong business climate put forth in the Greater Baltimore Committee’s 2010  report, "Gaining a Competitive Edge."

The joint agenda announced by President Miller and Speaker Busch touches on these core pillars: 

  • Government leadership that unites with business as a partner. The joint legislative agenda communicates positive support for business and the beginning of a strategic plan for business growth and job creation.
  • Workforce that is highly educated and meets Maryland's business needs. A leveraging of public and private sector capital for higher education research endowments is a positive step forward.
  • Regulatory policies that are streamlined, stable and predictable. Any program that enhances customer service would be a much needed improvement.
  • Strategic and effective state investments in business growth. Establishing reduced tax zones and creating a new cyber seed investment fund are welcome measures to nurture private investment in industry growth.
  • Tax structure that is fair and competitive. Re-coupling the estate tax with the federal level is a good first step towards achieving the more competitive tax structure our state's businesses need to be successful.


Meanwhile, a private-sector GBC commission is currently studying Maryland’s tax structure as a whole, with the goal of offering revenue-neutral recommendations for restructuring state taxes to make Maryland more competitive.

Maryland has numerous strengths and advantages as a location for business growth, including a superior education system, a highly-skilled workforce, a critical mass of research institutions and technology resources, and a high quality of life.

We are extremely well-positioned to thrive in the 21st century if business and government in Maryland can get on the same page in addressing policy issues that inhibit progress toward realizing our full potential as a global economic powerhouse. That is the main theme advanced by CEOs from around the state in GBC’s recent report entitled “Compact for Competitiveness.”

Economic development is a contact sport - others want what we have and what we want. Our competitors will not sit back and allow the State of Maryland to enjoy the economic growth that we are poised to achieve. It is imperative that we take steps to ensure that we take advantage of our strengths and opportunities.

There is still much work, strategic planning and smart implementation to be accomplished.

But this joint agenda is a good first step toward achieving the shared vision between private-sector and government leaders that is critically needed to strengthen Maryland’s competitiveness for economic prosperity, business development, and job creation. 

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.   

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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.