Maryland's second-in-command on economic development matters will step into the top job in January when the current secretary leaves for the private sector, state officials announced Wednesday.
Dominick Murray, who joined the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development six years ago, will succeed Christian S. Johansson as secretary of the agency. Johansson is heading to Baltimore-based Laureate Education, a company that runs universities worldwide, after nearly four years as agency chief.
Both officials were praised by the Maryland Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday for their work on entrepreneurship and efforts to give businesses more of a voice.
Will Burns, a chamber spokesman, said the agency in the last few years has created or restarted a number of panels, including the Commission on Small Business, to get suggestions about policy, regulation and other issues "from people in the trenches." He pointed to the "Maryland Made Easy" initiative, aimed at streamlining regulatory processes such as permitting, as an outgrowth of such outreach.
"They got real feedback from business people," Burns said, adding that both Johansson and Murray appeared at business events on a regular basis to solicit feedback personally. "We think that's important."
But the new appointment was criticized by Change Maryland, a group that has characterized the economic development department as primarily focused on positive-spin marketing. Larry Hogan, the group's founder and appointments secretary for then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said the state should have searched nationwide "to find the best economic development professional in the country."
"I am concerned that Mr. Murray's marketing background in the media industry signals an intent to continue to focus more on press releases, slide shows and videos that only promote the governor's national political aspirations," Hogan said in a statement.
Murray, first an assistant secretary and then deputy secretary of the economic development agency, worked as Baltimore's economic development officer for then-Mayor Martin O'Malley before joining state government. Prior to that, he worked in sales, marketing and senior management at such companies as CBS Radio, GE Capital and Baltimore's G.1440, an IT consulting firm.
A Michigan native, he moved to the area in 1979 to take a Westinghouse Electric job focused on the technical writing and video production end of military training. Murray, 58, lives in North Baltimore.
Asked about his priorities, he pointed to his role while working for the city of Baltimore — navigating businesses through the regulatory environment so they could get projects done "more quickly than they might otherwise."
"I would like to continue doing that bureaucracy-busting kind of thing, making sure DBED is the advocate for business to both the legislature and the administration," he said. "Whatever I can do to help business do well in Maryland is what I intend to do."
The state credits Johansson, the outgoing secretary, with connecting small businesses to financing in a tight credit environment, supporting growth in key industries such as the life sciences, and focusing on entrepreneurship. Johansson helped launch InvestMaryland, which raised $84 million in a tax credit auction this year to invest in Maryland's early-stage startup companies.
Johansson, who founded three companies before taking the state job, thinks startup support is good business. Most job growth comes from young firms, he said, and he wants to see more of Maryland's research and development fuel such expansion.
"We're No. 1 in research, but historically, we've been lagging when it comes to company formation," Johansson said.
He also defended the state's economic performance from critics such as Change Maryland. Since the last of Maryland's recession-fueled job losses in February 2010, employers have added 122,500 jobs, most in the private sector, he said.
That growth hasn't been enough to get the state back to pre-recession levels. But it is one of the best performances in the country over that period, Johansson said.
"If you look at the numbers, Maryland has held its own," he said.
Johansson's annual salary as secretary was $158,100. It was unclear Wednesday what Murray's salary will be when he takes over, but currently it is $139,500.
Robert Walker, the agency's chief operating officer, will become the new deputy secretary. Previously, he was the agency's assistant secretary for business and enterprise development and the state's agriculture secretary.
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