By Barry Rascovar
(A version of this column was published by CenterMaryland.)
Jan. 13, 2015 — For Gov.-elect Larry Hogan Jr., there’s no more important cabinet appointment than secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development.
What happens on job-growth and business-growth are likely to determine the success, or failure, of the Hogan administration.
So there was a lot riding on last week’s choice of R. Michael Gill as DBED secretary. The response to date: overwhelmingly positive and complimentary. Hogan seems to have picked a winner.
“He’s absolutely perfect for the job,” says former Sen. Frank Kelly, who served with Gill on the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.
“Mike has the most positive attitude of anyone I know. His enthusiasm is contagious. I think that’s what we need.”
Gill has a deep, abiding love for all things Maryland. He won’t have trouble “selling” the Free State to business prospects. It will come from his heart.
He’s a smart, personable super-salesman with a knack for retaining details about the people he meets. He’s quick on his feet, interesting to talk to and a true people-person.
Mike Gill has 32 years’ experience in information technology and wireless communication, starting with sales and marketing jobs at IBM, a fertile training ground.
He struck it rich by founding an early telecom wireless services and repair company (AMERICOM), but he also knows what it is like to take over a struggling technology company (Bluefire Security Technologies) and watch it flounder because its product was ahead of its time.
Gill is a master networker and civic presence, an investment banker (chairman of Evergreen Advisors) for middle-market companies and a never-give-up booster of state education institutions, especially his alma maters, Calvert Hall and Towson University.
The new DBED chief’s wide spectrum of acquaintances is reflected on his Facebook page, where “friends” are listed.
At the top is Hogan, followed by the state’s new insurance commissioner, Al Redmer, former state budget chief Chip DiPaula, and veteran Baltimore disc jockey Eddie Applefeld.
A second column lists University of Maryland Medical System vice president and lobbyist Mark Wasserman (a former DBED secretary), Towson real estate promoter Bob Latshaw, former Republican state chair and moving van mogul John Kane and business pal Ed Crawford.
Some are Democrats, though most are Republicans. Nearly all of them have important government experience and/or years of business know-how.
This symbolizes what Hogan is trying to achieve: Running government more like a business by turning to a mix of successful private-sector executives and entrepreneurs to light the way, along with folks possessing government management backgrounds.
Gill’s orders are to jump-start a moribund DBED weighed down for the past eight years by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s love-hate relationship with Maryland businesses. “Selling” Maryland was never at the top of his “to-do” list.
During those eight years, Maryland gained a reputation as a state where government was hostile to the private sector. No wonder O’Malley’s DBED secretaries proved lackluster.
It won’t be easy turning around the department and creating the sort of buzz that sparks corporate interest in moving jobs to Maryland.
If anyone can do it, though, it is Mike Gill.
Keeping Spices at Home
He’s already waxing eloquent about retaining McCormick & Co.
Thanks to his decades-old relationship with McCormick, Mike Gill is well positioned to find a way to satisfy the Fortune 500 spice company so it will anchor its new headquarters near McCormick’s historic roots.
Gill has a wealth of knowledge about Maryland’s high-tech and bio-tech advantages and the state’s first-rate institutions of higher education.
North Carolina may have a Research Triangle, but Maryland has a Research Rectangle (NIH, UM’s flagship College Park campus, Johns Hopkins and UM’s professional schools and medical research campus in Baltimore).
Boston may have a Route 128 Technology Corridor, but suburban Washington has its own, high-powered I-270 Tech Corridor, which dominates Montgomery and Frederick counties.
Only Maryland has an emerging cyber-security corridor stretching from Fort Meade and NSA to Washington, D.C.
Combine this with business incentives Hogan is certain to propose from the State House, and DBED might start generating exciting news sooner rather than later.
No Desk Jockey
One of Mike Gill’s favorite quotes (from espionage mystery writer John Le Carre), goes like this:
“Behind the desk is a dangerous place to view the world.”
That is especially true in government, as Gill will discover. Too many State House leaders spend way too much time in meetings. Their daily schedules are chock full of paper-shuffling, conference calls and roundtable talkathons.
Gill insists on an outside-the-office routine, where he gets to know his staff intimately, learns from them about issues and problems and works cooperatively to find solutions.
It won’t be much different dealing with Maryland’s businesses.
As DBED secretary, Gill will be on the go constantly, searching for companies that appreciate Maryland’s quality of life and its vast potential, finding out what local firms need and offering start-ups guidance and hand-holding from economic development pros.
Mike Gill has been described by a business friend as “a man of action, not words.” That sounds like the right formula for DBED at this juncture.