The editorial on Maryland’s business climate was interesting (“Maryland competing poorly with economic peers,” Tuesday’s edition). I’m not sure we need an in-depth report from highbrow publications like Moody’s Analytics to explain what is going on in Maryland or even Frederick County when it comes to business. A few simple examples will more than adequately explain.
Locally, County Executive Jan Gardner wants the world to know Frederick County is open for business and we want good-paying jobs. This is the plan, according to Jan:
Step 1: Removed the road signs at the entrances to Frederick County that stated “Open for Business.” Did this at the same time Gov. Larry Hogan was installing “Open for Business” signs across the state.
Step 2: Seize private businesses using eminent domain. That is Gardner’s way of thanking Aurora for investing $35 million-plus into two Frederick County businesses? I remember when the welcome wagon gave a gift basket from Black’s Orchard. The “New, open for business Frederick County” under the Jan Plan welcomes you with their $750-an-hour lawyers seizing your business and kicking you out of the county.
Gardner states she is doing this because of there is a “need” for this service. How does that make the other 12 nursing homes and 14 assisted-living facilities feel? Will Gardner seize their business when there is additional “need”? What industry is next?
Step 3: Created a tax incentive for only manufacturing businesses that invest $5 million in Frederick County and pay 150 percent of minimum wage. It’s not a set tax credit any business can use. A business needs to go ask Gardner if they can have a tax credit, then she decides the amount. This becomes a political decision, not a business decision. Businesses want a fair, level playing field with a predictable business climate.
What about small businesses that don’t pay 150 percent of minimum wage? Small business is the backbone of America. What if they add only one employee? No plan for them.
Frederick County business history and the county exec as a commissioner 2006-2010: Stopped the building of the Jefferson Tech Park just a few miles up U.S. 340/U.S. 15 from Medimmune/AstraZeneca where the county executive just issued a tax credit for a technology company. The tech park is the place with the new interchange on U.S. 340/U.S. 15, leaving Frederick going toward Jefferson.
Stopped Homewood Retirement Centers from completing Phase 2 at Crumland Farms. The community includes a 120-bed health care center for skilled and special memory care, 56 assisted-living suites, 122 apartments and 43 cottages. There was no “need” for senior care five years ago?
Took property rights from 702 property owners during the comprehensive planning process. Downzoned a tree farm, a fruit stand and a graveyard, to name a few. The county executive just decided to open the comprehensive planning process again and start over. Hang on.
New “chains” of communication: The County Council is not allowed to talk with staff via telephone and must go through a very convoluted process to ask questions via email. More than five people need to touch an email before it gets to the right person. Most requests are denied or never answered. Information that is given is generally untimely or incomplete. How is that for business-friendly? Constituents still call the council for help and for answers, and need the information requested. The county executive controls the process and chains of command.
Yes, Virginia, there is a “rain tax”: A few rather well-known Frederick County entrepreneurs and investors decided to take their business to Virginia. After years of red tape, bureaucracy and political indecision, they had enough. The buildings they tried to lease and start businesses in are still vacant. In Virginia, the constituent service is much better, and they understand “business climate.” They now have two businesses in Virginia. The governor even flew his helicopter to one of their businesses for the ribbon-cutting.
In the broader state, we still struggle with the O’Malley legacy of the rain tax. Maryland wanted to be five years ahead of the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean water act. Virginia decided to wait and see for 20 years. Let Maryland make all the rain tax mistakes and drive business out of Maryland and into Virginia. That strategy is working.
In Frederick County, we have a local company slammed by the O’Malley rain tax. The business was founded over 50 years ago and has operated in the same location since the mid-’80s. They are the “doughnut hole” location of the industrial complex. Last November, the state of Maryland decided they needed to “improve” their property to “properly” drain rainwater. After 30 years, there has never been a problem. Cost of the rain tax to fix a problem that never existed and still doesn’t? $1 million.
This is the reality of the Frederick County business climate. I live it every day. I take the phone calls and hear the stories. Keep calling. We can turn things around.
Billy Shreve is a former county commissioner and now represents Frederick County as a councilman at large. He can be reached at billy@FrederickCountyMD.gov.