Deputy Secretary Benjamin Wu, Maryland Department of Commerce, told local entrepreneurs Tuesday morning the state is “Open for Business.”
He made his presentation during the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce and Department of Economic Development’s eighth annual Business and Industry Appreciation event at Wisp Resort.
Wu said one of Gov. Larry Hogan’s priorities when he was first elected was to improve Maryland’s business climate.
“He had a vision that our state could be a place that could grow and thrive businesses without being hindered by a government that may not fully meet their needs,” Wu said. “So over the past four-plus years, we’ve worked hard to unshackle the economic potential of our state’s economy.”
Wu said Maryland now leads the Mid-Atlantic region in job growth, and unemployment has dropped to below the national average.
“We were just named in U.S. News and World Report as the sixth-best state to live in the country,” Wu said.
He indicated those achievements required leadership, partnerships and much commitment.
“So we have, under the governor, developed a slogan, ‘Open for Business,’” Wu said. “It’s become our rallying cry.”
He stressed, however, it’s more than just a slogan. It’s also a mission.
“We’re not just pushing ‘Open for Business,’” he said. “We’re also making steps to transform the way we do business.”
For example, in 2015, the Department of Business and Economic Development became the Department of Commerce.
“Not only did we change our name, but we undertook a culture transformation that allowed for the organization to be much more client-facing and much more responsive to business,” Wu said.
While more work needs to be done, the state is “getting results,” he said.
“One of the reasons why we’ve been able to transform the culture of state government is the fact that the governor has launched a statewide customer service initiative,” Wu said, “which is designed to change the way citizens and businesses interact with government officials and agencies, and to try to make their encounters as effective and efficient as possible.”
This includes, the deputy secretary said, making more information and services available online and through mobile apps.
“One key example of this is our award-winning Maryland Business Express website,” Wu said.
The site consolidates information and resources from several agencies.
“It’s a one-stop shop for small businesses and entrepreneurs to try to give you the tools that are needed to be able to launch, to manage, to plan and to grow your business,” Wu said. “You can check it out at businessexpress.maryland.gov
To further encourage economic development and business growth, he noted, the governor has been able to cut taxes five years in a row, putting $1.25 billion “back in the pockets of hardworking citizens.”
“We’ve also been able to slash fees and tolls and eliminate 850 regulations,” Wu said.
Between 2015 and 2018, he added, manufacturing, which had been declining for years, added 6,000 jobs.
“But the work continues,” the deputy secretary said. “The governor is not going to be satisfied with just being better. There are a number of other new initiatives to try to grow businesses in Garrett County and throughout our state.
Those include supporting rural broadband development and participating in the federal Opportunity Zone Program, which offers business and housing tax credits.
“Governor Hogan has made economic development his top administration priority,” Wu said, “and not just to ensure that we allow businesses to prosper and continue to grow jobs, but that every corner of our state, especially those that had been neglected in the past, share in that prosperity, as well.”