Hogan aide favors economic zones

Roger Campos

CUMBERLAND — Roger Campos, Gov. Larry Hogan’s business ombudsman, said creating economic zones in Western Maryland would be a good step to help boost the economy in the region.

Campos’ remarks were made during a luncheon in the Gira Center at Frostburg State University last week. The event was sponsored by The Greater Cumberland Committee.

Appointed in February 2015 by Hogan, Campos is Maryland’s first business ombudsman. Campos said he reports directly to Hogan and acts as a “goodwill ambassador to businesses and helps to fix problems and challenges for businesses.”

Creating economic zones in Western Maryland that provide tax incentives for businesses has also been the focus of Sen. George Edwards. However, his push to establish economic zones in Western Maryland and other rural counties fell short for the second straight year in the Maryland General Assembly.

Campos, who said his wife is from Cumberland, asked those attending during a Q-and-A session if economic zones had been established. The audience indicated the zones had not been put in place.

“Economic zones provide greater incentives for businesses,” said Campos. “It is a great approach to take back to the governor.”

In addition to his extensive education and lengthy career in business and government, Campos, a Mexican-American, was the founder, president and CEO of the Minority Business Roundtable in Washington, D.C.

Campos provided an update on Hogan’s effort to improve Maryland’s business climate and make the state more business friendly.

“When I started, it was a challenge. We went around the state and heard from small businesses. We heard your voice,” said Campos. “We wanted to make a change. That is the whole premise of the Gov. Hogan’s campaign, changing Maryland for the better.”

Campos said he has handled 70 cases in his first year and resolved 68 of them. 

“I understand what business owners go through. We know small businesses don’t have a voice. My job is to give you a voice to the governor,” said Campos. “The other part is customer service. Last year the governor signed a piece of legislation that was passed by the General Assembly to provide customer service and training to all state employees. That was added to my duties and responsibilities. You will be hearing more about that. It is something that will take a longtime to develop ... changing peoples’ attitudes is something that is difficult. But certainly we will do everything that we can to effect change.”

Campos said the governor wants to make it easier for families and businesses to come, and to stay, in Maryland.

“Our goal is changing Maryland for the better through economic development, jobs, reducing taxes, fiscal responsibility, government reform and improving the quality of life.”

He said the focus includes access to capital, contracts, regulatory and procurement reform, reducing fees, expediting assistance and responsiveness.

“Last summer the governor announced the creation of a Regulatory Reform Commission,” said Campos. “The commission issued its first report on December 2. Part of it was recommendations on implementing good, tough new customer service standards.

“I have drafted the state’s first customer service standards,” said Campos. “They will soon be launched. You will hear more in the coming months.”

He also said a Procurement Modernization Commission was recently launched to reform procurement.

“Procurement is antiquated and not business friendly and we want try to streamline the procurement process,” he said.

A business leader at the luncheon asked about the challenges dealing with environmental and State Highway Administration red tape on projects.

“The environmental and highway, they don’t make the rules clear enough and it takes them eight months to get it resolved and it kills deals,” said the business leader. 

Campos said efforts are underway to make the approval process quicker.

“It is case by case, but I’ve been very successful working in that area expediting permits and processes. Some government officials want to do the right thing. Sometime engineers and others misinterpret rules and regulations,” he said.

Campos said another new program that is not well-known yet is the Small Business Reserve Program.

“It requires 23 agencies to set aside 10 percent of their procurement dollars for small business. Right now the state has exceeded that goal to the tune of 11 to 12 percent. We want to expand the program to all agencies in the state.”

Campos said currently in Maryland big business can compete against small business. “We want to break out contracts specific for small business.”

He said agencies will reserve contracts for under $25,000 for small businesses. “We want to get some multi-million contracts to small businesses.”

Campos said the Small Business Reserve Program will be much easier to apply for compared to the “cumbersome” Maryland Business Enterprise program.

Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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Greg Larry is a reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. To reach him, call 304-639-4951, email glarry@times-news.com and follow him on Twitter @greglarryctn.