For three years, the folks at Thumbtack.com, a service for entrepreneurs looking to trumpet their wares, has partnered with the Kauffman Foundation to produce a Small Business Friendliness Survey for much of the country. I’ve referred to this survey before on several occasions.
Out of 38 states which had enough data to analyze, Maryland falls in a range between 25th and 27th with a “C-” rating, placing it in a group with Michigan and Wisconsin. While it rated top grades (an A+) for training and networking programs, it had only one other good grade – a B+ in ease of hiring – and several D+ grades in regulations, tax code, licensing, environmental, and zoning.
There are a couple caveats to bear in mind for Maryland’s grade. There aren’t a whole lot of businesses surveyed, and the written responses came from a small area of the state representing Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard, Frederick, and Baltimore counties as well as Baltimore City. Those are the areas which generally represent the Democratic strongholds of the state, which leads me to wonder whether the grades are inflated because the responses tend to skew toward a liberal population or whether their frustration level is such because they are conservatives in a liberal state. Regardless, you have a number of survey answers like this one from Severn:
Maryland is all about taxing entrepreneurs and driving them to other states.
To be fair, there were a lot of positive responses, too, like this one from Hyattsville:
I have no complaints. The state of Maryland does a very good job in providing incentives for small business owners like myself to continue to conduct business.
If you hold your cursor over a dot on the page, you can read the good and bad reviews – by my count there are 32.
But to me this is a good primer for politicians to read – real responses from real business people who are hustling daily. And you can easily compare notes with a state like Texas, where responses were plentiful (at least from the urban Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio areas) and the grades were outstanding across the board – Texas was the lone state to not have any B grades whatsoever, just straight A’s. (Virginia was also in a fairly elite category as well, along with Idaho and Utah.) That’s a very useful facet of this survey in my eyes.
Having three years of data to work with can be telling as well. Out of ten sub-categories the survey measured, Maryland slipped in eight of them between 2013 and 2014. (Only the “training and networking” improved, while “employment, labor, and hiring” stayed put. These were the two best categories for Maryland.)
It is a legitimate question to ask, though, whether the frequent talk over the last couple years about how bad Maryland businesses have it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy insofar as these survey responses are concerned. While there’s obviously been changes in law and regulation, they didn’t seem as bad as some of the grade drops may seem to indicate. But then these are the people in the trenches.
With the timing of the survey, I suspect it will be taken next year in the opening weeks of either the Hogan or Brown administration, and the responses may hold a key to what we can expect over the next few years as far as businesses see Maryland.