This story was corrected on Nov. 26, 2012. An explanation follows the story.
Echoing familiar themes, company executives again denounced what they see as the state’s difficult business climate during the Maryland Chamber of Commerce’s annual conference on business policy.
“We need to develop regulatory and growth policies that encourage business growth,” said Scott Dorsey, CEO of commercial real estate developer and property manager Merritt Properties of Baltimore. “Too often people get frustrated with infrastructure problems and that leads to the conclusion that we need to stop building.”
Dorsey joined with the leaders of Pepco in Washington, D.C., W.L. Gore & Associates in Newark, Del., and Old Line Bank in Bowie at Turf Valley in Ellicott City on Friday to discuss strategies and concerns for today’s economy.
Dorsey, who also is a director of Maryland Business for Responsive Government, said frequent minor business regulatory changes have led to a “death-by-a-thousand-cuts” situation.
Dorsey compared his company’s reception in Maryland with Virginia’s reaction.
“When we expanded into Virginia, an amazing thing happened: They were happy to see us. We haven’t seen that in Maryland,” he said.
Merritt has been involved in real estate development in Maryland for more than 40 years.
James Cornelsen, president and CEO of Old Line, agreed with Dorsey.
“It takes too long to get anything accomplished,” he said, pointing to Old Line’s four-year wait to build its new office building in Bowie. “I think it would move faster in other states.”
“Four years to get a building approved is ridiculous,” said Robert W. Cannon, a lawyer with Saul Ewing in Baltimore.
He said Old Line’s situation reflects a “failure of leadership at all levels and a culture of ‘I’ll get around to it’” in the state.
Although Prince George’s County officials have reiterated the county’s goal of streamlining its permitting process, Cornelsen has little faith, saying every county executive has made the same claim.
Old Line has 19 branches and has been on a bit of an acquisition binge, purchasing Maryland Bankcorp of Lexington Park and agreeing to acquire Washington Savings Bank of Bowie.
“We’ve got to turn up the advocacy,” Cornelsen said. “We’ve got to fight each and every day. You can’t just sit on the sidelines and expect someone else to do the heavy lifting.”
“I would like to change the way government and business interact,” Dorsey said. “Right now, it’s ‘I see you want to do something — how can I stop you?’”
He explained the problem may not have been so pronounced in the past because Maryland businesses have always been dependent on the nearby federal government.
But now businesses need to “re-engineer” the process and figure out how to transform Maryland’s assets into jobs, Dorsey said.
Terri Kelly, president and CEO of W.L. Gore, which has several plants in Maryland, had a more positive outlook on the state, saying her associates “love” living in the state.
But she did say that Maryland’s regulatory changes can be difficult to navigate when Gore must manage different state locations.
“It’s almost like Kelly is in another state,” Cannon said, referring to Kelly’s experiences with the state.
As for federal changes, Kelly lamented how regulatory changes have forced companies to hire people to handle the additional paperwork, which does not necessarily drive investment.
Cornelsen complained about the nation turning the bank industry into a “commodity” and a utility, the same as the energy industry.
He warned that regulations are killing off the smaller banks because they cannot grow at a sustainable rate.
“Keep in mind that when they disappear, they’re sometimes in really small towns, where they may be the center of commerce,” Cornelsen said.
Dorsey added that the real estate industry needs more predictability instead of politicians “just kicking the can down the road” when it comes to fiscal policy.
Thomas Graham, president of Pepco Region, also emphasized that the Maryland business community needs to stand united when dealing with local and federal issues and not have different businesses moving in different directions.
Explanation: Scott Dorsey is a director — not chairman, as originally reported — of Maryland Business for Responsive Government.