As a follow up and way to revise and extend remarks on Friday’s post about the Alliance for American Manufacturing, I decided to dig a little bit more into who they are and what they are proposing. The idea of “Made in America” is a sound one, for a number of reasons, but as I pointed out the AAM seems to have many of its eggs in the protectionist basket. To some extent, they have a case: even their attempt to furnish their Washington, D.C. office with exclusively American-made goods fell a little short:
Our tour began in one of the small offices, where (AAM executive director Scott) Paul showed off a desk from Washington state. But things took a turn downhill from there, when we got to the products on the desk.
“You can’t find phones, video display terminals,” says Paul. “I mean, none of that is American-made.” Paul couldn’t find American-made computers, either, though that may change following Apple’s announcement that it plans to make some Macs in the United States.
But then I found an entire AAM-backed legislative agenda, for which they linked to this subpage on the website of Delaware’s junior Senator Chris Coons. In it, we find a number of top-down legislative proposals in the areas of skills training, exports, access to capital, and “conditions necessary for growth.” At the time of its last update, about half of these proposals hadn’t been introduced as bills, with the last introduced bill being S.1400 in July of this year – either the website is not often updated or these proposals have languished on the back burner of a do-nothing, obstructionist Senate. This to me is quite telling as most of the sponsors are Democrats, who have the majority in the body.
It should be pointed out, too, that the Alliance for American Manufacturing is the brainchild of the United Steelworkers union and a “select group of America’s leading manufacturers.” The list of this select group isn’t widely disseminated, but the AAM describes that:
Leo Gerard, the International President of the United Steelworkers, and CEOs of Steelworker-represented manufacturers understood that. These leaders launched AAM in 2007 to build on the success of the “Stand Up For Steel” coalition.
The roots of that coalition date back to the 1990s, so this fight is an old one under a relatively new name since the AAM was founded in 2007. Essentially it’s a union partnership with the closed shops under its wing; a business-labor pact in name only.
Now that you understand its roots, it becomes more clear why they prescribe their menu of solutions. The steel industry is long known as a bastion of protectionism, given the charges of foreign steel dumping a decade or so back.
So are there any other solutions out there? The competing group to AAM is the National Association of Manufacturers, a group whose board is representative of over 200 industrial leaders. Their vision is somewhat different than that of the union-backed organization, although there are elements of protectionism and top-down dictates in their plan as well. Most worrisome to me is their advocacy for immigration reform, which is needed but must be done in such a manner that law-breaking is not rewarded at the expense of those who went about it in the correct manner.
Yet NAM makes one sound point:
Because of our tax, tort, energy and regulatory policies, it is 20 percent more expensive to do business in the United States than it is in the countries that are our nine largest trading partners — and that excludes the cost of labor.
And it’s not like the problem is new, particularly here in Maryland. I mentioned Friday that Ron George is perhaps the gubernatorial candidate most attuned to the problem (David Craig has his own plan as well), although all but one of the players involved at the time had their say at an October manufacturing summit. Moreover, outgoing Governor Martin O’Malley was even forced to pay lip service to the issue.
But we have had this discussion for several years, and the prescriptions which were suggested a half-decade ago languished on the bookshelf while Maryland developed a growing reputation as a state hostile to business. It’s sort of strange that what I wrote on Friday – as a person who had never seen this report – nailed their first point about “a competitive and stable business environment.” They also talked about the need for a “balanced approach” to energy rather than the heavy emphasis on renewables, which is another pet peeve of mine. (Little did they know at the time the report was compiled – just five short years ago – that America and a portion of Maryland were sitting on an energy gold mine.)
In short, the solutions to the problem seem to be there and many fall into the conservative, pro-liberty camp. If we tell the radical environmentalists and regulators to go pound sand because we have work to do, chances are more of us would indeed have more work to do and more prosperity to spread around.
While Black Friday has spilled over into Thanksgiving Day for some retailers, the bulk of merchants still open extremely early on the Friday after Thanksgiving, promising loss leaders which normally fall into the realm of electronics. Sadly, practically all of these items are made overseas which means Americans aren’t making them or generally raking in the profits from their sale. More than anything, this change in operations over the last half-century has been blamed for the decline of the middle class.
Last year Scott Paul, who heads the Alliance for American Manufacturing, penned an op-ed for the Huffington Post where he noted:
The day after Thanksgiving, “Black Friday,” is also an American tradition, albeit a more recent one. Shoppers sometimes maim and maul each other to find bargains at big box stores and shopping malls. It’s ugly. And in a way, it represents the very worst of America.
Black Friday is also the most visible symptom of what’s really dragging down our middle class: we consume too much from overseas, and we don’t produce enough here to make up the difference. That burdens us with debt, and leaves us fewer options for jobs.
There is a solution, and it may sound quaint, but it’s never been truer than it is today: this Black Friday: Buy American.
They’ve also put out a list of American-made gift ideas from each state, a unique collection which features everything from lip balm to motor homes. (Representing Delaware is local brewery Dogfish Head – not a bad choice for someone like me although I prefer 16 Mile. Dogfish Head was selected based on nationwide distribution.)
Obviously I’m of the opinion Americans need to make more things; the same can be said of Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ron George, who has spent the most time of his cohorts touting the idea of bringing manufacturing to Maryland. Recently he pointed out the state is dead last in the country in certain key metrics.
The way I see it, there are certain things state and local government can do to accomplish this: among them are a stable and predictable regulatory regime, a corporate tax rate that’s fair and doesn’t punish achievement or investment, and the transportation infrastructure required to whisk goods to market in the most rapid fashion possible. Hopefully all these work to a point where counterproductive incentives like tax abatement or abuse of eminent domain aren’t necessary.
Unfortunately, it seems the AAM has a different idea on how to achieve the goal. Most of their federal advocacy is barely-veiled protectionism, which in the long run discourages innovation and results in fewer opportunities for the consumer. Of course I think trading partners should deal with us in a fair way, but one also has to figure out that there has to be some reason an American company can manufacture goods overseas, load them on a ship and wait a week or two for them to arrive – paying for that service – and still make more money on the products than they would in an American factory with American workers. It can’t all be labor costs.
It would be nice to be able to go to a Walmart or Best Buy and find American-made electronics rather than support a regime with missiles pointed at us. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to want to change the system to make this happen and protectionism isn’t the answer.
It’s funny because automakers from around the world set up shop in America to build their cars, so it’s obvious some industries prefer our workers. Granted, putting together a television exhibits nothing close to the complexity of building an automobile, but if the complex assembly of a car or truck can be made here profitably we should be able to make anything cheaper and better. Now that we know we have enough inexpensive energy reserves to last us for generations, let’s make our future Black Fridays more prosperous by encouraging the return of manufacturing.
As an opponent is wont to do, yesterday David Craig released a criticism of the state’s tax-free week program:
Anything that gives Marylanders some tax relief is better than nothing, and it’s a recognition from a stubborn political monopoly about the need to spur the economy, but the need for a so-called ‘tax free week’ raises a broader issue. Why is it just for a week, and why do politicians decide what items qualify?
State government has collected nearly $4 billion since the enactment of a 20% sales tax increase in 2007. That is a lot of back to school clothes, and handing out some extra pocket change for shoes, shirts and pants is a sorry pittance considering this regressive, harmful tax hits working people the hardest.
Considering Craig comes from a county that’s a half-hour drive from a locality which has “tax-free forseeable perpetuity” – and isn’t afraid to trumpet that fact in every advertisement bargain-hungry Marylanders see – he raises the right question. But what is the answer?
According to the state’s latest budget summary, the sales tax raises $4.3 billion a year. So even if it were a “true” tax-free week, we would only lose about $83 million in total. Given the vast limitations on what can be purchased, I would figure the state is “sacrificing” no more than $10 million to tell the voters they care. (On a side note, the sales tax is only 12% of revenue but Uncle Sam is 27 percent, supplying $9.8 billion to prop up Maryland.)
So to me Craig’s question is valid, but I would go further and make the case that the state could do without the sales tax and be just fine. It’s 1/8 of the revenue, but consider the same budget document I refer to notes the difference between FY2012 and FY2014 spending is $3.47 billion. Just cutting the budget to FY2012 levels obviates the need for 3/4 of the sales tax revenue and I’d be pretty confident increased economic activity would cover the rest. Delaware may piss and moan about lost business, but that would be their problem. They still have an easier go of adjusting their casinos to market conditions thanks to our shortsightedness, so there’s always that.
Looking at that Maryland state budget, it’s also worth mentioning that eliminating the corporate income tax entirely would “cost” the state $1.091 billion – an amount almost exactly equal to the difference between the FY2013 and FY 2014 budgets. So maybe the sales tax stays for the interim – and remember, that $4.3 billion will likely go up somewhat because gasoline is now subject to a 1% sales tax, or about 3.5 cents per gallon – but we eliminate the corporate income tax and level-fund the budget. There are all kinds of ways to make the numbers work, with the key idea being maximizing the number of dollars in Marylanders’ wallets, not Annapolis coffers.
Of course, we know the media and Democrats (but I repeat myself) would scream bloody murder; to them I say: we tried it your way, and it’s becoming clear we have an utter failure on our hands. It’s time for the adults to take over again.
This evening I depart from the maelstrom which is Maryland politics to bring you: reality. It’s the sort of reality that smacks you upside the head like a 2×4, except that there’s not a whole lot of demand for those right now – in case you haven’t noticed, there hasn’t been a whole lot of building going on over the last half-dozen years or so.
That’s a reason this post by Lee Dodson at The Brenner Brief caught my eye, as it asks a vital question: can the construction business survive? And when the opening line is…
The construction business didn’t just collapse, it disappeared.
…there was nothing I could do but sadly agree.
It’s been nearly nine years, but the reason I moved to Maryland in the first place was to take a job at a growing local architectural firm. For 22 years I worked in that business, first as a draftsman with a firm which literally did all its drawings with ink on mylar (anyone remember that?), then moving on to learning AutoCAD beginning with version 11, then taking my architectural exam – for which I grandfathered in because I only had a four year degree but enough work experience to qualify – and finally moving up to project management for small projects and eventual LEED certification a year before I was furloughed. In total, I worked for six different firms, not counting a little moonlighting I did now and then for a home builder.
To make a long story short, the demise of the construction industry locally put me (and, over a period of about 18 months, 16 others, give or take one or two who worked for my firm at various times while I was employed there) out of a job. Most found work in other places, but I decided to stay here and try something different because I like the area and didn’t wish to move yet again. A firm which had nearly 20 employees at its peak is now down to just a couple. Obviously I can’t speak for other firms, and there’s perhaps a few which have opened up during my long interregnum from the business, but I believe I would be safe in saying that, if you added up all those positions held at local architectural, engineering, and design firms seven years ago, less than half remain. And the reason is simple; not much is being built and what is getting done tends to be awarded to firms across the bridge.
So I have had the humbling experience of being downsized as a middle-aged guy out of a profession where I toiled for most of my adult life. But it’s even worse for long-term prospects, as Dodson notes:
The extinction of an entire class of tradespeople is the most dangerous situation. But those in the business who can bring younger people along will play a vital part in the recovery and restore a once vibrant building economy only if there is a will to liberate that class to thrive.
If you don’t do something for a long while, you lose your innate knowledge of the craft. Those who were expert tradesmen but lost their jobs wouldn’t be quite the experts if and when they were rehired. While someone like me wouldn’t forget completely how to do AutoCAD or know how to interpret the building code so a set of drawings could be sent out for permit, the industry has changed enough in a half-decade to present a steep learning curve once the industry recovers.
Unfortunately, the construction industry also suffers from a couple other factors which will affect its long-term local viability. The massive influx of foreign laborers, many of whom are here illegally, is driving wages down and placing craftsmanship in peril for those jobs being built.
Perhaps more ominous, though, is the additional red tape being placed on the construction industry on a number of fronts, but most particularly in the areas of “green” design and compliance with overly restrictive environmental and zoning codes. It’s difficult enough to establish this area as a market with its below average income, but when developers have to jump through a multitude of hoops to try and make their enterprise a profitable one, they may be inclined to try their luck somewhere else. I’m convinced that a large-scale development like Ocean Pines, which was built over 40 years ago, wouldn’t be possible today because the environmentalists would fight it tooth and nail in court or lobby to have the zoning codes written in such a way to prevent it.
It may be another decade before the building industry catches up to the over-saturation of units built in the last ten years or so, as the housing market collapsed here just as it did in many other resort areas. Those who figured on this area to be their second home suddenly had to worry about keeping the roof of their first house over their heads, and many couldn’t. Couple that with the continuing War on Rural Maryland perpetrated by those who think they know better in Annapolis and it’s clear that we may not have yet reached the bottom. Hopefully that’s not the case, but as seen from my perspective the jobs are nowhere to be found in this locality.
As is often the case, it was exceedingly hot, quite humid, and a sprinkle of rain fell on the Somers Cove Marina. But thousands braved all that for crabs, clams, and hot and cold running politicians. This is my story.
On any other summer Wednesday afternoon, one can stand near the Somers Cove Marina and see that sight. But yesterday it looked more like this.
The brand new Craig/Haddaway signs were in evidence, as were a handful of shirts.
However, the pair in question didn’t show up until the event was somewhat underway. Their entrance was rather understated compared to some others, as I’ll show later. I caught them just as they entered the gate.
Fellow GOP contender Delegate Ron George had long been set up by then, with his own tent.
He may have had the best giveaway item as well – ice cold bottles of water stashed in a cooler behind the palm cards and brochures.
Ron proved himself to be a man of many hats. Okay, at least just a woven straw one.
A more modest presence was shown by draft candidate Charles Lollar, who brought his wife Rosha along. Here they pose with Wicomico County Republican Club president Jackie Wellfonder.
Later I caught Charles chatting with host Delegate Charles Otto (left, in hat), who represents Somerset County in the House of Delegates.
Another would-be Delegate making her Tawes debut as a candidate was Mary Beth Carozza, who’s seeking the District 38C seat. She had a few assistants in tow as well as an attractive sign.
She was one of many local Republicans and activists who were well-represented in their tent.
We even had the infamous “pin the tax” sign. Too bad we didn’t have it out where more could see it, but it would have been soaked by the misters thoughtfully added by the Somerset County folks. Did I say it was hot?
Observing all this was state Republican Party Chair Diana Waterman, who indeed was carrying a bottle of water.
Also making a presence was Larry Hogan (right), whose Change Maryland group now boasts a 50,000-strong Facebook following. He was making no indication of a possible political run today, but it’s intriguing that he took the time and came down to Tawes.
Hogan has made the point that his group is not restricted to Republicans; a significant portion are independents and Democrats. And the latter group was well-represented at Tawes, too.
Front-runner and Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown was also casually late, but had a gaggle of young supporters trailing him. He’s sort of obscured in the center of the photo.
Brown’s first stop upon entering the gate?
There were more modest presences from Attorney General (and gubernatorial hopeful) Doug Gansler and Comptroller Peter Franchot, who considered the race for the top spot but opted to seek re-election. (My photo of Gansler didn’t come out well.)
One other Democratic gubernatorial hopeful whose presence surprised me was Heather Mizeur, pictured here with Salisbury City Councilwoman Laura Mitchell.
Her formal announcement must have been a brief affair, as she and a small band of supporters made the trek down to Crisfield. Mizeur told me it was about her tenth time attending – obviously first as a statewide hopeful.
Also carrying the Democratic banner was the State Senator from District 38, Jim Mathias. He had a decent-sized group of supporters who must have been busy putting up a half-dozen 4×8 signs along Maryland Route 413 leading into Crisfield.
Salisbury mayor Jim Ireton (right) was sporting a “‘bury” sticker to represent his town.
I found Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt enjoying his lunch early on.
Pollitt explained that it’s easier to eat on the pavilion side because he would be greeted by more people in the party’s tent. Makes sense to me – same reason I eat a little at a time.
In fact, a large percentage of those enjoying the food were well away from the political. They were being entertained by the DJs on the left of the photo.
A number of other businesses were represented at Tawes as well, although to me the number seemed down from previous years.
Still, lobbyist Bruce Bereano had his corner. Bruce Bereano ALWAYS has his corner, and it’s always full of Annapolis politicians from both sides of the aisle.
It also always has this nice touch and tribute to the late Somerset County Delegate Page Elmore.
And of course, there was the media. Tawes was crawling with them.
In WBOC’s case, not only did they have the remote truck and the flyover by Chopper 16, the ‘Outdoors Delmarva’ crew was there too. Also covering the event was competitor WMDT-TV channel 47, WBAL radio, and reporters from the Salisbury Daily Times and Baltimore Sun, among others I probably missed.
That doesn’t count the alternative media. The Red Maryland crew was interviewing a number of Republicans – here it was Ron George’s head fundraiser Hillary Pennington of Stratgic Victory Consulting.
Brian was also kind enough to query me, so we’ll see if mine made the cut this evening.
Eventually the crowd began to trickle out and another year’s Tawes event was in the books. There was actually a light shower as I was leaving, which didn’t bother me in the least. A lot of fellowship and fun was had by all.
The vibe of the event promises to be different next year. An earlier primary now means that the Tawes event will occur once the major party nominees are known, so it’s uncertain how much time and expense they will invest in the gathering.
One other note of interest: while I did see Blaine Young there this year, the presence he had was minimal. This leads me to believe he may be stepping aside from the gubernatorial race to concentrate on a local run; otherwise he would have had a tent space as he did last year.
Speculation aside, the Crisfield Chamber of Commerce put on another wonderful event – kudos to the volunteers who make the event one the late Governor can indeed be proud of.
No, this is a G-rated post. But it was the tagline of a Tweet I received the other day:
— Rich Vail (@rvail136) July 10, 2013
I’ve mentioned Rich before in the context of how it is to be a blogger (even part-time as he currently is) and struggle financially. In his case, though, the job he lost was his primary source of income and as a fellow casualty of the moribund building industry I can relate quite well to Rich’s plight. So I looked at his site and read this most recent tale, finding that unfortunately the unemployment insurance system doesn’t apply for him and the initial bottoming out of the recession not only affected his livelihood, but the potential for him to create his own work.
Yet it could be a matter of survival for his former employer as well, as Rich relates:
The really sad thing, is the company I worked for, kept the 2 illegal workers from Peru, instead of keeping an American. After all, why shouldn’t they? They don’t pay taxes on them in any shape or form…nor do they pay overtime. That’s what really angers me. Why should any American company pay an American citizen, or legal resident, a living wage, when they can pay an illegal worker less than half? I mean really? Why bother to hire citizens, after all, we can live off of the dole, can’t we?
The frustration evident there slaps you in the face.
Now I can even tie Rich to my Bob McCarty story from earlier in the week, since he once had an avalanche of attention come his way when he passed along a rumor (from what he considered a credible source) that Barbara Mikulski was retiring as Senator. Unfortunately for both him and us, this turned out to be false – but Rich had thousands of readers for a time.
That spark soon died out, though, and Vail returned to the occasional post and perhaps making a few dollars a month from donations and ads. But now he needs a lot more.
As you may have noticed, I also have a few ads, mostly text link ads now since some of my other former advertisers are struggling as well. So in the spirit of paying something forward I took the ad revenue I received for last month out of my PayPal account and sent it along to him – my rent is paid for the month and I still have a job, part-time as it may be (along with my writing client.) It’s not a lot, but he can use it more than I can.
Maybe someday I’ll get it back in spades, but even if not that’s all right. As he noted:
I had hoped that I might be able to get a single dollar from each person who visited this site, so that I could at least have a faint hope of keeping a place to live…
My original hope was to get people to hit the tip jar for a dollar or two…and help me cover my rent for July. We’ll lose our apartment @ the end of the month, as the management company is very aggressive in going to rent court if you are 2 weeks late.
So I’m spreading the word.
But what really saddens me is that there are probably 500 Rich Vails in our country right now, bloggers who have used their ability simply to put out a “bleg” because it’s their last hope before they’re out on the street. Seeing that Rich and I are about the same age (he’s 50, I’m 48) and remembering the good economic times in America we were both blessed to grow up and live our first 40 years or so in, I have to sit and wonder if this really will be the “new norm.”
To me it’s a generational thing: those who are Baby Boomers will suck all the oxygen out of the economy as they age, while those of us who inhabit what’s known as Generation X will be saddled with the bill, as will our children of the Millennial Generation and so forth. Perhaps their children will get out from underneath the load, but first their parents will have to quit worrying about which Hollywood couples are making up or breaking up and devote some serious thought about real change in this country. (That is, if they can find jobs.)
I lived through what was supposed to be “the worst economy in the last 50 years,” the recession of 1991, and that slowdown put me out of work for a couple months – I was laid off on the very day my ex-spouse and I got the keys to our first house – before I found a job as a CAD instructor at a local college; eventually, my old firm called me back after five months. Before that, I lived in a city which struggled during the 1980s as Detroit transitioned from a city with an unquestioned Big Four automakers to one shellshocked by worldwide competition that was selling a superior product. (Then and now, Toledo also lived and died by the auto industry.) Those were some tough times in the first half-decade or so after I graduated from college in 1986 – it took me six months after graduation to get my initial job in Toledo, as the work was simply not there.
But those recessionary times have nothing – NOTHING – on the pitfalls I have seen over the last five years. I’m not going to sit here and blame Obama, blame Bush, or blame anyone else – I’m just going to ask a question: Does anyone really care about fixing the economy for all of us, or are they simply out to exploit their fellow man in a game of grabbing all they can while the opportunity is there?
I’m seeing way too little of the former and way too much of the latter these days. Don’t know if we need a revival, an upheaval, or a do-over, but this shit can’t stand. So much for the G-rated post, but that’s how I see it.
Anyway, help a brother out if you can.
Two critics had differing takes on the state economy this week. One of them is running for governor while the other continues to expand its grassroots effort as some question whether its leader will throw his hat into that ring.
The latter critic, Larry Hogan of Change Maryland, noted with disbelief that Maryland lost 5,700 jobs in May:
Every month in Maryland is like Groundhog’s Day – over and over again we hear this administration talk about jobs, yet more times than not, Maryland families wake up to learn once again our state has lost jobs. Career politicians think that if they say something enough times, it will eventually become true. And while the O’Malley / Brown administration likes to talk about jobs, the cold harsh reality is that 5,700 hard working Marylanders lost their job last month.
The time for results is long overdue and the O’Malley / Brown administration has no more excuses left. They have been at the helm of our state’s economy for seven years, there is no one else to blame for these job losses. The need for real change in Maryland has never been more clear.
While O’Malley / Brown claimed 4,600 jobs were created in Maryland during May in the aftermath of the “Bush Recession” – never mind the six years of prosperity which occurred before O’Malley’s party became Congressional obstructionists – Change Maryland actually links to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data which shows the number of unemployed rose from 205,100 to 210,800 in May, a number which increased unemployment by 0.2 percent.
Perhaps that’s why Change Maryland has become a social media juggernaut, eclipsing by far the social media presence of Maryland’s current statewide candidates and their affiliated parties.
Meanwhile, announced gubernatorial hopeful Ron George blasted O’Malley / Brown for Maryland’s poor grade in a national report on manufacturing climate, a grade which has remained subpar throughout O’Malley’s tenure. Said Delegate George:
This is why manufacturing jobs are a big part of (my) “Economic Development And Maryland Jobs Plan”. I see Baltimore and small towns on the Eastern Shore, Western and Southern Maryland hurting because the democratic leadership does not understand how to create jobs and true economic growth. I will bring manufacturing jobs back to Maryland.
While his general outline is fairly sketchy, I believe we should strive to create more manufacturing jobs. Yet there is one aspect of a business climate generally overlooked.
On Monday travelers will be forced to shoulder a greater burden of the cost of transportation as increased tolls on Maryland bridges (including the Bay Bridge) and highways take effect on the very same day the gasoline tax is increased. Ostensibly these increases are to fund maintenance on what we already have as well as supposedly provide the seed money to build new commuter rail lines in Baltimore and in the Washington suburbs. Perhaps that would be fantastic for the 1 out of 12 Maryland workers which actually use mass transit and may jump that number all the way to 1 in 10 or maybe the stratospheric heights of 1 in 9. But that leaves the rest of us.
Building commuter rail probably won’t clear enough cars off the highways to appreciably improve the ability for trucks to traverse Maryland’s roadways. Aside from State Senator E.J. Pipkin – who has several times introduced legislation to this effect – no one is seriously thinking about the real infrastructure improvement of a midpoint crossing of Chesapeake Bay, one which would make Eastern Shore goods more accessible to Virginia and points west and encourage tourism from an area now mired with the prospect of hours of travel for going a comparatively short distance as the crow flies.
Nor are they considering upgrading the U.S. 13 corridor through Delmarva to provide an alternate north-south route from Wilmington and points north to Norfolk and regions south. Another options benefiting the state would be to finish the abandoned I-97 route to Richmond. Either of these would require regional cooperation, but neither seem to be a priority for a governor who would rather move a few people between menial jobs than move lots of goods and tourists around the region in a timely manner.
We have the willing and reasonably skilled labor force ready to work. Now we need a government which thinks long-term about real possibilities, not pie-in-the-sky schemes and imaginary boogeymen like global warming.
The e-mail was from Americans for Prosperity, and perhaps it came across as a little shrill. But interim Maryland AFP director Nick Loffer brought up a pretty good point:
Governor O’Malley is spending your tax dollars on professionally produced TV ads in a new PR stunt to mask Maryland’s dreadful business climate. Outrageous! These government TV ads promote handpicked businesses and their products to convince job creators to pick Maryland without your consent!
You shouldn’t be forced by your government to promote any company period! It’s wrong, unfair, and abandons America’s free market economy! (All emphasis in original.)
What struck me about this, though, were the immaculately politically correct companies selected for this round:
Jennifer and Andrew Buerger traveled to Iceland in 2009 to help raise funds for Jodi’s Climb for Hope, a nonprofit honoring Andrew’s sister. Their mountain climbing expedition, led by Maryland’s Earth Treks, was a life changing journey. Jennifer and Andrew also discovered a healthy, nutritious Icelandic yogurt and launched B’More Organic, a business built around a 100% organic, fat-free, gluten-free, low-lactose yogurt smoothie that packs 30 grams of protein. You can find B’more Organics delicious yogurt smoothies in other small Maryland businesses like Mom’s Markets, Roots Markets, Earth Treks Climbing Centers and Wegmans. Good for you, Good for Maryland, Good for the Planet!
People across Maryland are signing up for wind power with Clean Currents. Co-founded in 2005 by Gary Skulnik, Clean Currents has helped 10,000 homes and 3,000 businesses make the switch to wind power in the Maryland region. Clean Currents provides wind power to Maryland businesses like Honest Tea, Woodberry Kitchen and Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company. A certified B-Corporation, Clean Currents is also growing the next sustainable energy generation with community partners like Baltimore’s Midtown Academy. It’s easy to switch to Clean Currents clean energy, there are no added fees, no equipment to install, just good clean energy. Good for you, Good for Maryland, Good for the Planet.
Apples & Oranges Fresh Market
Meet new neighbor, Apples and Oranges Fresh Market – a fresh market for a fresh start towards healthy eating and a better quality of life. A full service grocery store committed to providing nutritious and delicious food options for the community of East Baltimore, Eric and Michele Speaks-March, opened Apples & Oranges in March 2013. Stocking their neighborhood market with garden-fresh produce, fresh meat and dairy products, and offering customers recipes, nutrition information and healthy eating tips, this local Maryland business is clearly invested in a future that is Good for You, Good for Maryland and Good for the Planet.
If so inclined I might just have to look at the political leanings of those in charge of the businesses, but for this purpose the fact that all of them are deemed “good for you, good for Maryland, good for the planet” is good enough to deserve scrutiny.
If skyr (the Icelandic yogurt referred to in the first blurb) has a market here in the U.S. then it will be found. Why should Martin O’Malley and Anthony Brown help them with a promotional spot? The same holds true for Clean Currents and Apples & Oranges, as both could be considered niche businesses. Clean Currents is essentially an electrical service broker, selling wind-produced electricity at a slight premium over conventional rates (perhaps $2 a month, depending on usage) while Apples & Oranges is a food store which opened in an area termed a “food desert,” defined as a neighborhood where few healthy food items are available. (To bolster that narrative, it’s located across from a McDonald’s.)
Obviously I understand the idea of a business being a political prop – over the years, politicians of all stripes have attended the ribbon-cuttings, made campaign appearances at particular business locations, and so forth. Democrats and Republicans here and everywhere else have “their” businesses they lean on for various functions – as an example, I’ve attended many a meeting at Adam’s Ribs in Fruitland because it’s considered a Republican- and TEA Party-friendly establishment so we patronize them. Conversely, Seacrets in Ocean City tends to be the preferred location for fundraisers for Democratic State Senator Jim Mathias so one could infer they’re backers of his. The same was true of Main Roots Coffee for Democrat Jim Ireton in the recent Salisbury mayoral campaign.
The point of the AFP criticism lies in the “MaryLand of Opportunity” campaign, which belies the actual conditions encountered by most small businesses which don’t receive the break of state endorsement:
Governor O’Malley and Annapolis should be focusing on making Maryland the best place to do business by reforming our business climate, not masking the problem by wasting more of your tax dollars. Only through free market reforms can Maryland’s reputation as being flyover country for businesses and families that are choosing states with brighter economic outlooks like Texas and Virginia be erased.
With the state’s priority of pushing organic dairy products, wind-produced electricity, and produce markets in inner-city neighborhoods, one has to infer that a startup in the oil services industry, a gun shop, or a Christian-themed reception hall won’t be getting state help anytime soon. Yet they produce jobs, too, and eliminating the corporate tax and keeping state spending in line would help all of these businesses, not just the chosen few picked as the most politically correct.
Oh, and just to be nitpicky – I don’t consider Wegmans as a small Maryland business that sells skyr since it’s a New York-based regional supermarket chain. And the Clean Currents energy is not available “across Maryland” since I actually put my zip code in to check rates and it said their service wasn’t available here. So I used Annapolis instead. Typical “One Maryland” garbage.
A week or so back I referred to one of Delegate Michael McDermott’s summaries of the 2013 General Assembly session, and he’s come back with another installment today. In this one, he laments the economic effects of those “few pennies” we’ll be paying every day to the state in additional taxes and fees by reminding us that businesses will be paying them, too. McDermott concludes that:
As the government draws more money out of the economy through these new taxes and fees, taxpayers (and) consumers find themselves with fewer discretionary dollars. This always results in fewer dollars being put back into our local economy and every point of commerce suffers. When business slows, expansion is put on hold. When business suffers loss, people lose jobs.
All this seems to be basic common sense which is lost on those who inhabit the Maryland General Assembly and vote with the majority party. It somehow never seems to seep into their consciousness that business aren’t going to pay maybe $100 a year for the so-called “rain tax” or the promised no more than $2 a month for “green” energy, nor will the effects of ever-increasing gasoline taxes be minimal for them.
The problem they have is twofold: the Maryland economy is dynamic and the geography is static. From my house I can be in Delaware in 15 minutes and Virginia in about 40. It’s worth pointing out that just four of Maryland’s 23 counties aren’t on a state border (Anne Arundel, Calvert, Howard, and Talbot as well as Baltimore City) while several border two states and Washington County touches three. Certainly it’s not like larger states where traveling to a different jurisdiction to take advantage of their business climate involves the expenditure of several hours and a half-tank of gas.
So Maryland has to compete on a playing field which is far from level, and savvy consumers know just where to go to get the best deal. It’s no wonder that neighboring states have large shopping meccas close by Maryland’s borders.
Now this isn’t all bad news for Marylanders, as some cross state lines to work just as some who live in neighboring states make up Maryland’s too-slowly growing workforce. But as critics like McDermott and Larry Hogan of Change Maryland point out, we can do better.
And don’t think Mike isn’t seeing the political reality. Note this passage in his report:
I am not sure where the disconnect lies with legislators who see nothing wrong with this tax and spend approach at governing, but I am quite sure the public is fully able to connect the dots. I was recently at a meeting of local business owners and entrepreneurs when a senator told them that what they could “conceive…the government would help them achieve.” Sadly this was repeated so there was little doubt where he was coming from in his thoughts regarding the purpose and scope of government.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Senator in question isn’t the person McDermott will be facing next year.
Recently Change Maryland had to do a mea culpa, because they found out they were incorrect.
Just weeks after putting out the word about Martin O’Malley and his 37 tax increases since taking office, the good-government advocacy group had to let people know they were just a little bit off – in the wrong way:
Previously, Change Maryland released a report that updated tax and fee increases following the 2013 session, which brought the total to 37 increases that remove $3.1 billion annually over and above the existing tax burden. These latest reports adds new fees for gun purchases, enacted in 2013, and two newly-discovered measures buried in omnibus legislation and not subject to normal legislative procedures.
So now we are up to a nice, round 40 tax and fee increases under the O’Malley regime. Aren’t we special?
Since I began with Change Maryland, I may as well continue with what their leader, Larry Hogan, had to say:
Nobody expected the total impact to be this staggering, not even me. Struggling Maryland families and small businesses simply cannot afford another four years of an O’Malley-Brown tax and spend binge.
Hogan continued by lamenting the ongoing nature of the problem:
This is not just an argument about big government. It’s about a government that is on auto-pilot to grow exponentially, beyond anything any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes and that comes directly at the expense of the private sector economy that we desperately need to diversify our employment base.
Undoubtedly, the question for the O’Malley/Brown team – and they are a team, since our lieutenant governor is the favored choice of Martin O’Malley – is whether Anthony Brown will try and run up the score some more. Would triple digits be possible over a 16-year reign of the O’Malley/Brown team? In a speech in Chestertown, Hogan used the occasion to blast the heir apparent, who’s announced his intention to snag the state’s top spot next year, from the stump.
(Side note: the odds are against Brown, as on three occasions since the office of lieutenant governor was re-created in 1970 the officeholder failed to win the office him/herself. Blair Lee III lost the 1978 Democratic primary, as did Melvin Steinberg in 1994. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend won her nomination, but lost to Republican Bob Ehrlich in 2002.)
Yet the more Hogan chooses to point out the foibles of the O’Malley/Brown team, the less of a chance there is he will enter the race himself. In a lot of ways, Larry has chosen to be this state’s version of Sarah Palin as he could potentially be a kingmaker as the leader of a bipartisan group closing in on 40,000 followers. If each can influence five voters, you have yourself a GOP primary winner in a year where it appears we will have two or three relatively strong candidates.
And then there’s always O’Malley’s own legacy and his dreams of running for President in 2016. Certainly he would find it a feather in his cap to get his LG elected as successor and cement his legacy. Being the media whore he is, I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see Martin O’Malley take the tack suggested in this piece by Pete “DaTechGuy” Ingemi as MOM has to overcome the legacy of one Hillary Rodham Clinton. “I can see a certain Maryland governor doing this,” indeed.
Once upon a time, the massive, weekend-long food orgy we locally call Pork in the Park got its start, and I imagine it went something along the lines of what was held yesterday down in Snow Hill, Maryland. Then again, our county doesn’t have a large defunct auto dealership turned into a body shop to hold an event at. This used to be Sho-Wil Chevy-Oldsmobile, or so the large tent said.
At least these guys went out and hired an expert, as Sandy Fulton (right) has been involved with Pork in the Park since the beginning.
Certainly the Snow Hill Middle School PTA may have hit upon a winner of an event. For those of you expecting thousands of people, a throng of vendors, and dozens of competitors, though, you would be a little disappointed with this modest beginning.
A total of eight amateur teams vied for the $100 top prize in chicken and pork, along with $200 for the overall winner. I’m not sure how the vendors did, but there were a few there.
There was also a somewhat limited selection of food at this gathering, including ribs for sale from Famous Dave’s and Phat Boyz BBQ. Hey, it’s a start.
By the way, the best chicken prize was won by Broke Bob’s BBQ (obviously Bob is a little less broke) while Spicy Guys BBQ (who sent their lone girl up to claim the prize) won the best pork. But the overall champion was Tribal Smokers, which finished second in both categories.
Lest you think there wasn’t much going on there, well, there was a variety of activities. We missed the cornhole tournament, but could have sharpened our horseshoe skills.
Now a number of people left after the awards, since they had likely arrived very early to the site for their chance at the cash. But quite a few hung around in the chill to listen to one of the five bands featured. (Spoiler alert: there is also the return of Weekend of Local Rock for a post next weekend.)
This couple made themselves at home in the hay, much to the delight of onlookers.
Others in the even younger set found the bales fun to horse around in.
I imagine the young teenage boy, unseen under the lump of straw on the right side of the photo, is still scrubbing it out of his clothes, hair, etc. He had a lot of fun with it.
Another entertainer not on the bill was this talented young man.
I suggested he should try his luck on the Boardwalk because he could probably pay for a semester or two every summer, with a little more practice.
But as the sun set over the horizon, the vendors had packed up and the food court was doing the same. I think Phat Boyz was the only one left selling as we left. Well, that and the beer tent.
Yet aside from the food, which was a little on the pricey side – not that it’s an uncommon thing at these types of events – this was a relatively cheap way to spend the afternoon. With a little better weather and a year’s experience under their belt, I see no reason why they can’t draw a couple thousand next year.
Their main goal is to become a KCBS-sanctioned event next year, which will certainly make the stakes a lot higher for the teams. If they can get to a point where they’re drawing 30 or 40 teams, perhaps 20 to 30 vendors, and maybe a dozen different restaurants (not all of them sell ribs) that would be a superb one-day event for the Snow Hill area to bookend their season (Blessing of the Combines is their prime tourism draw, and they also have the annual Worcester County Fair, both in August.)
So congratulations on a job well done to Pig and a Jig. I look forward to bigger and better things next year. And also, as I said above, look for the Weekend of Local Rock post on the event this coming weekend.
For the second year in a row, a nationwide survey of business owners found Maryland lagged behind the bulk of states in overall business climate.
The survey, conducted as a joint effort between the business-to-business website Thumbtack.com and the Kauffman Foundation, quizzed nearly 8,000 business owners and operators across the country, asking them to grade their respective states in a number of categories related to their perception of the business climate.
While Maryland graded out as a “C” overall – improving from a “C-” grade in 2012 – it ranked ahead of just 12 states in the survey; on the other hand, 26 states made a better impression on their entrepreneurial denizens. (Eight states lacked the requisite number of responses for their results to count; included in that group were neighboring Delaware and West Virginia.) While Maryland paled in comparison to Virginia, which received an “A” grade overall, it did better than Pennsylvania’s “D+” mark.
Another unique feature of this survey, though, was the addition of written responses from various business professionals throughout the state. Maryland’s overall “C” grade seems to be belied by some of the comments given in response to the survey – for example, a marketing specialist in Baltimore wrote,”The tax structure in Maryland is hurting small businesses and their owners. A more business friendly environment in Virginia is causing me to consider relocating the business there.”
Sure enough, Virginia seems to have earned its grade given the number of businesses relocating there (many from Maryland) over the last few years.
Another business owner, this time a general contractor in Gaithersburg, bemoans the tax climate here, pointing out that,”To start business in my state has been a long time period of paperwork and fees and examinations. Once the process is started, there has been no help from the state or county to obtain business. The only thing this the state cares about is your taxes and fees.”
A Walkersville production company owner adds, “Sales tax is charged on services. No other state that I have lived in requires services to be taxed.”
In general, “Maryland is a very unfriendly business state,” said a cleaner in Owings Mills.
And while not all the responses were negative, with one photographer saying “it was easy to start a business in Maryland,” and praising the state’s SBA and websites, all but a couple of the fifteen or so written responses panned some aspect of starting and succeeding at business in Maryland.
And this isn’t lost on those who conducted the survey, either.
“It is critical to the economic health of every city and state to create an entrepreneur-friendly environment,” said Dane Stangler, Director of Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation. “Policymakers put themselves in the best position to encourage sustainable growth and long-term prosperity by listening to the voices of small business owners themselves.” It’s likely that 37 tax increases in a row over the last six-plus years does not an entrepreneur-friendly state make.
When I asked Sander Daniels, who commissioned the study as the co-founder of Thumbtack.com, about his perspective on the problems a state like Maryland faces, he made several points.
(As for) general advice for state/local officials (on improving their grade), I would say that it makes the most sense to identify the primary pain points for your small businesses and to balance this with what are the low hanging fruit in terms of improvement.
For example, we found that licensing/permitting regulations are very important to small businesses. They often need to be reformed along two dimensions: the requirements themselves, which are often outdated or were the result of regulatory capture by extant businesses, and the number of overlapping regimes…covering the same issue at the city, county and state level. Fixing these issues is important; however, it is also time consuming and challenging. So, while working on these important but long term reforms, the state could simultaneously focus on smaller improvements like ensuring that more forms and processes are handled through easy to use websites…
(On taxes) our analysis was on a national level. Also, I should probably clarify slightly. It’s not that taxes weren’t important – in fact they were one of the most important factors – but that licensing regulations were often more important, particularly to new and expanding firms. We felt that this is an important thing to highlight given that while taxes are a frequent topic of conversation, licensing and permitting regulations get comparatively little airtime.
But the lesson which needs to be learned comes from a Virginia businessman who noted, “Maryland is losing companies to Virginia due to heavy taxation, although the federal government presence is as prominent there as it is here in Virginia. When government gets out of the way – companies thrive.” It’s not clear which portion of StateStat or the so-called “Genuine Progress Indicator” (read: excuses for poor economic performance) might cover this part of the equation, but the message couldn’t be more clear.
Crossposted on Watchdog Wire, with quote from Sander Daniels added here.