The ticket for job creation

When I wrote my brief little synopsis on Friday regarding manufacturing, I noted in my promotion that it made me think of former gubernatorial (and future State Senate) candidate Ron George, for whom the most appealing part of his campaign was the emphasis on bringing industry back to Maryland.  In response Ron wrote:

Your article is spot on. Note also the companies that are taking their manufacturing jobs out of China and bringing them home to many southern and midwest pro business states. Our Maryland midsize cities need it back.

Governor Larry Hogan needs help by voters in these areas pushing representatives and candidates for low taxes for manufacturing at the state and local level. The increase of the number of new workers paying the payroll tax will itself greatly increase state and local revenues. Keep it up Michael Swartz.

So I decided to revise and extend my remarks. Those of you who have read here awhile probably have a good idea about what I’m going to say, but I do have new readers all the time so a refresher is in order.

I have no doubt that Maryland can compete for businesses large and small once they eliminate the mindset that employers are cash cows to be milked dry for revenue and embrace the thought that their main goal is to be profitable. I definitely show my age and home state bias, but the mantra I grew up with under Ohio Gov. James Rhodes was that “profit is not a dirty word in Ohio” and to get there we wanted people to make things, just as this 1966 advertisement in my hometown newspaper states. Those things Rhodes touted a half-century ago are still valid today for attracting industry – low taxes, financial incentives, a well-trained workforce, and easy transportation. Plus aren’t we the land of pleasant living?

In the first case, Maryland can make a splash at the cost of three cents per dollar of state spending by completely eliminating the corporate tax. Even if it were phased out over a two- or three-year period, the fact that progress is being made should vault Maryland higher on those business-friendliness lists those whose business is to attract business refer to.

As for financial incentives, I’m leery about having the state in the investment business because I don’t believe they should pick winners or losers. At this time, though, they already have the Maryland Venture Fund although it’s geared more toward startups.

Supposedly Maryland has the best educational system in the country, although I’m a little skeptical of that claim based on some of the recent graduates I’ve seen. One thing we need to focus more on, though, is the idea that vocational education can be valued as much as college prep. Maybe Johnny and Susie’s parents think otherwise, but even “A” students sometimes show not all high school students are college material.

But people with the aptitude to run machinery, know how to tinker and fix things, and are good with their hands don’t need a degree from State U to succeed – and oftentimes have the advantage of not being thousands in debt. To be perfectly frank, to succeed in my chosen profession of architecture one should not need a college degree if they are willing to spend several years learning the craft from the bottom up as one of my former employers did. Somehow they have picked up the idea that five to six years of college schooling plus a couple years in an intern development program is the only way to create good architects, and that’s simply not so. This is why money should follow the child, so they can explore the maximum number of educational options out there.

Finally, there’s the aspect of transportation. Maryland is a state in a great location, but in our case on the Eastern Shore we have the lousy luck of a large body of water limiting our ground-based options. We can either go north through a tangle of traffic lights and small towns along U.S. 13 north or go south through a different gauntlet of traffic lights and small towns. Of course, any improvement to that situation requires the assistance of Delaware or Virginia.

Yet the alternative of going west remains with a third Bay Bridge span. Environmentalists can stop reading after this sentence because I will give them a stroke over the next paragraph – just pick it back up two grafs down.

To me, the best place for a third span runs between Dorchester and Calvert counties, southwest of Cambridge along Maryland Route 16. Obviously roadway improvements would need to be made, but imagine the ease it would bring for traveling between Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. No longer would it be an arduous three-hour journey to travel perhaps 50 to 60 miles west as the crow flies. Would it go through some environmentally fragile areas? Yes. But I believe the benefits would outweigh the costs.

I know people will complain that bringing industrial development to Maryland in general and the Eastern Shore in particular would ruin the rural lifestyle, but lifestyle is what you make of it. The carrying capacity of the Delmarva Penninsula is probably at least double its population; a number that will increase with advancements in technology. Regardless, we are nowhere near the density of the I-95 corridor and that should remain the case for the foreseeable future.

I’ve often said that if an area doesn’t grow, it dies. I used to use North Dakota as my poster child for this until they got an energy boom and began attracting people seeking work in a lucrative field. While Maryland can get some benefits from doing the same and allowing fracking, perhaps the best way to make their mark is to adopt the old Ohio mantra that profit is indeed not a dirty word and take the bold steps needed to shake its anti-business reputation.

To enjoy the land of pleasant living, you have to be able to make one.

Cleveland rocks!

To me, it was good news from the RNC: the 2016 GOP convention is slated for Cleveland. For those of us on the East Coast, it’s a city within driving distance and in my case I would have a ready-made place to stay because part of my family lives there. The “mistake on the lake” could achieve the daily double as well, since the Democrats also have their eye on Cleveland for their convention – if so, it will be the first time in 44 years both parties have held their convention in the same city, with Miami being the site of both 1972 conventions. Cleveland last hosted a national convention in 1936, when Republicans picked Alf Landon to face Franklin Roosevelt. (They also hosted the 1924 GOP convention, which nominated President Calvin Coolidge for a full term.)

But to me it’s a milestone of a city going through the pains of revitalization, A few weeks ago, on my Sausage Grinder blog, I wrote a piece reviewing a study done in Cleveland about how the city is attracting more and more young workers. Frustrated by high real estate prices on the coasts and finding good jobs in the “eds and meds” fields, Cleveland is becoming a destination of choice around the region. Yes, that Cleveland.

If the GOP wants to send a message about their vision for America, they should focus on the process Cleveland is using for its rebirth. The city is a laboratory to study mistakes made and methods which work, as it serves as a microcosm of sorts for the country at large. Built up in an era when brains and brawn were needed in equal supply to create the goods which helped a young America prosper and witness to an exodus to both its suburbs and more favorable regions which all but killed the city, Cleveland can still be a survivor. As I wrote in my piece, Cleveland is a place “where manufacturing is in the blood.” I think making things in America again is the key to a national renaissance.

Certainly Dallas and Kansas City, Cleveland’s two main opponents in the fight to be convention host, have their own stories to tell. But there’s a political factor to consider: Texas and Missouri have been fairly safe Republican territory over the last several elections, but Ohio has gone with the winning Presidential candidate a remarkable 13 elections in a row – so any Republican advantage there can be vital. On a state level, the GOP has been dominant for much of the last quarter-century, albeit with less-than-conservative politicians occupying the governor’s chair – George Voinovich, Bob Taft, and John Kasich have left a lot to be desired insofar as the conservative movement is concerned. But if Kasich secures re-election this year, he will be the fourth two-term Republican governor in a row stretching back to the days of James Rhodes, who served four non-consecutive terms beginning in 1963.

So if I’m blessed enough to get an opportunity to cover the proceedings – or even be a delegate or alternate – I think it would be fun to give the perspective of a transplanted Ohioan. It’s something I can scratch off my bucket list in fairly familiar surroundings.

The demise (and rebirth) of manufacturing?

Those who hold power in Annapolis continue to talk about bringing back manufacturing jobs, but the path toward making Maryland a major player again in that field begins with making a number of changes. So says gubernatorial candidate Ron George, who put out a stark criticism of the O’Malley record:

The O’Malley/Brown administration has abandoned the working man at the time when manufacturing companies are relocating back to the US and looking for a hard working, well-educated workforce. Our progressive tax system, from the sky high property tax rates in Baltimore City to the equipment tax that is four times the national average, has positioned Maryland as the worst state in the country for manufacturing.

Manufacturing accounts for a significant percentage of new jobs for workers with less education and experience in the workforce. I am working to reform education in our urban centers to direct and expose our young people towards careers requiring a trade or specialized certification.

George cites a Tax Foundation study which shows Maryland lagging behind its neighbors; indeed in several aspects of the study our state was dead last. (Oddly enough, though, Pennsylvania fared worse overall than Maryland – its recent good job fortune comes with its farsighted decision to exploit its underground resources.)

I found this interesting on the heels of a recent op-ed by Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, which chastised the Obama administration for a slow growth in manufacturing jobs nationwide. Paul concludes that:

Too few of our policymakers have considered the consequences that came with losing a third of our manufacturing jobs in the last decade. This economic recovery has not worked for the middle class; but a real one will occur when we begin to revalue manufacturing’s place at the heart of it.

Ironically, this op-ed came out on the same day leading Democratic contender Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown skipped a Maryland manufacturing conference.

So why can’t Maryland be a leader in making things? It would certainly be good for diversifying our state’s economy, which seems far too dependent on the federal government. Rather than pushing the pencils inside the Beltway, we should be making them in Hagerstown, Elkton, or any of a number of small towns which could use the employment. Of all the GOP candidates, Ron has probably devoted the most thought to the process. I also applaud the implied endorsement of vocational programs which are sorely needed in this day and age, giving people the skills necessary to not only become useful workers but also potential entrepreneurs and teachers of skilled trades.

Yet there is one thing missing in George’s idea; admittedly, no one else has really considered it either. There are several modes of transportation available for goods produced in Maryland; for domestic consumption we have reasonably good (if somewhat traffic-choked) north-south highways in I-95 and I-81 with an alternate coastal route of U.S. 13 through Delaware and the Eastern Shore. Unfortunately, transportation to the west is somewhat more problematic, with the meandering I-70 being the best bet. There is also rail transportation available, along with a oceangoing seaport in Baltimore to export goods and more limited facilities in Salisbury for barges. (Obviously there are airports as well, but generally manufactured goods use other means of transport.)

Maryland needs to position itself as a state which has a relatively good location between the metropolis of the Boston-Washington axis and the growing region of the Sun Belt, a workforce which is better educated than most, and – most importantly – a mindset I’m going to borrow from a former Republican governor of my home state, James Rhodes: “Profit is not a dirty word.” Let businesses come and make some, rather than confiscate the fruits of their toil as Maryland seems most willing to do.

Let’s face it: with the government we have in place, both in Maryland and nationally, the middle class is being phased out. There are a few on the top with all the cronyism and connections, a small (but growing) cadre of government minions who get their wealth from writing the rules which allow the upper crust to stay where they are at, and a huge number who have become the serfs of this modern-day feudalism. When America made things, it had a middle class and everyone benefited. It’s time to bring it back through leadership with an eye toward that goal.