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Pepco Region president Thomas H. Graham, who takes over May 1 as board chairman of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, has strong business and community ties to Montgomery County.

So with only about 10 percent of the statewide chamber’s roughly 800 members coming from Montgomery, which has some 20 percent of the businesses in the state, Graham wants to see those numbers increase.

A former resident of Montgomery County for 15 years, he presently lives in Prince George’s County and plans a similar campaign there. About 8 percent of Maryland chamber members come from Prince George’s.

“I have been involved and am currently involved in many business organizations in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties,” Graham said. “Those two counties are great economic engines for this state. So it makes sense to do outreach and leverage my existing relationships in the business community there. By amplifying the business voice in these two great jurisdictions, our ability to better collaborate with government to bring more high paying jobs and increased education funding in Maryland improves.”

The bulk of members of the state chamber come from Baltimore city and Baltimore County, he said. Graham will be named chairman May 1 during the chamber’s annual membership meeting and Business Hall of Fame Dinner, taking over for William T. Riley Jr., a partner with the Baltimore office of accounting firm CohnReznick.

Graham already has made presentations to some business organizations in Prince George’s and is contacting business and government leaders in Montgomery to set up meetings. He sits on the board of the Strathmore Hall Foundation, which oversees cultural programs at that North Bethesda facility.

Graham also is heavily involved with Leadership Montgomery as a member of the 2002 class, along with the Greater Prince George’s County Business Roundtable and other organizations. In addition, Jerry Pasternak, regional vice president for Maryland with Pepco, is a board member of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.

Often work cooperatively

Leaders of the Maryland chamber often work with county chambers on legislative lobbying and other campaigns. “I won’t be an unfamiliar face,” Graham said.

Local chambers work well in a cooperative manner with the statewide chamber, said Ginanne M. Italiano, president of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. She also is a board member of the statewide chamber as its representative from the Maryland Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.

“We do compete in some ways, but there is no reason why a business can’t be a member of both a local chamber and the state one,” Italiano said.

In fact, Andy Stern, board chairman of the Bethesda chamber and president of Andy Stern’s Office Furniture, is also a member of the Maryland chamber. His business has several offices in Maryland.

“It depends on the nature of the business and where their offices are,” Italiano said. “For a local mom-and-pop shop, it might only make sense to be a member of the local chamber.”

As far as doing specific outreach in Frederick County, Graham said there is only so much he can do. “I want to get something done that is manageable,” he said. “I’m focused towards good results in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.”

Graham also wants to strengthen networking events to bring about stronger business connections and engage policy makers more.

Graham has been on the Maryland chamber’s board since 2005, including as vice chairman for the last two years and as secretary/treasurer and finance committee chairman before that. He also chaired the inaugural Maryland Chamber Cup golf tournament.

kshay@gazette.net