BALTIMORE – When Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. took office in Jan. 2015, signs began to appear on Maryland highways saying the state is “Open for Business.”
That phrase was part of Hogan’s campaign pledge and inauguration speech. Hogan had vowed to make Maryland’s regulatory environment more friendly to businesses and entrepreneurs.
And some say Hogan has done just that.
“I would put what the governor has done and what the president has done, together, and say that the business climate, because of the two, has changed in a significant way,” John T. Williams, president, and CEO of the 113-year-old Hagerstown-based Jamison Door company, told the Baltimore Post-Examiner.
Williams employs about 110 people and expanded his business recently to neighboring Pennsylvania.
Williams, who sits on the Maryland Chamber of Commerce board, credits Hogan’s Regulatory Reform Commission as what helped kickstart the boom. The commission was created in 2015 with the aim of making the state more business-friendly, for improved relations between regulators and businesses.
“The horror stories that came out of that commission, I think, changed the whole attitude of state government agencies as it relates to business and made them think of business as their customers.”
Nearly five years later Hogan is serving his second term as governor and the numbers indicate that Maryland’s economy has vastly improved compared to when former Gov. Martin O’Malley (2007-15) led the state. O’Malley’s tenure was marked by companies cutting jobs, closing, and moving to other states.
Under Hogan 6,390 businesses have been created in Maryland, according to the data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics during the first quarter of this year.
Maryland has added 126,000 new jobs under Hogan as of September, according to the Maryland Department of Commerce.
That number stands in stark contrast with the estimated 1,848 businesses and 32,000 jobs the Bureau estimates were created during the eight years of the O’Malley administration.
Maryland’s unemployment rate was 5.4% when Hogan took office. Today the state’s unemployment rate is 3.7%.
From January 2015 to September 2019, Maryland’s job growth was 4.8%, which placed the state 29th nationally.
“From day one, Governor Hogan has worked hard to make Maryland a more welcoming and supportive place to do business,” Maryland Department of Commerce spokesperson Daniel Leaderman said. “This effort has included eliminating hundreds of burdensome regulations, improving customer service throughout state government, making it easier for businesses to access the information and services they need, and implementing new incentives such as our More Jobs for Marylanders program, which supports our manufacturing sector. We are also continually marketing Maryland as a state that is “Open For Business.”
However, not all believe Hogan deserves all the credit.
Former Gov. Parris Glendening said job growth under Hogan has mirrored national trends and that job growth was slower under the previous administration because of the “Great Recession” that devastated global financial markets.
“Those figures are fairly common across the country. By fairly common, I mean very slow growth ten years ago, and it was coming out of the recession. Private capital was expanding but not as fast as people would like.”
He added: “In the past several years the economic recovery has been rather dramatic across the country and Maryland has always been positioned to do well, especially when the economy is doing well.”
Glendening pointed to Maryland’s highly educated population and its nationally renown “universities” and “research labs” as part of the state’s key economic assets.
The former governor said although Maryland has a strong economy many of the state’s residents are struggling.
“One of the big issues is the quality of the jobs and particularly the pay levels. In that case, Maryland is doing quite well compared to much of the country but at the same time we have a large portion of the workforce that is not realizing the benefit of that expansion.”
Maryland’s minimum wage is $10.10 per hour and will increase to $11.00 on January 1, 2020. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
Retail is one sector in which many employees are paid minimum wage. The sector has not seen growth under Hogan but that may have more do changes in the nature of the industry.
“The industry has fewer employees now than in 2015 due to a confluence of factors such as technology investments, costly policies resulting in cuts and even issues like theft that cost businesses money,” said Cailey Locklair, president of the Maryland Retailers Association.
The retail sector lost nearly 6,000 jobs from 2015 to 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The industry is well known for change as it is highly competitive and that is the best way to explain what is happening combined with about 13% of all sales occurring online,” Locklair said.
Bryan is a freelance political journalist who has extensive experience covering Congress and Maryland state government.
His work includes coverage of the election of Donald Trump, the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and attorneys general William Barr and Jeff Sessions-as well as that of the Maryland General Assembly, Gov. Larry Hogan, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bryan has broken stories involving athletic and sexual assault scandals with the Baltimore Post-Examiner.
His original UMBC investigation gained international attention, was featured in People Magazine and he was interviewed by ABC’s “Good Morning America” and local radio stations. Bryan broke subsequent stories documenting UMBC’s omission of a sexual assault on their daily crime log and a federal investigation related to the university’s handling of an alleged sexual assault.