John Belcher is really slowing down in retirement.
He’s down to working 50 hours per week. While running Annapolis-based ARINC, the high-energy systems engineer gave 80 hours a week to the aerospace technology firm.
Working with a handful of aviation-related firms energizes and excites the man who says he’s old enough for Medicare but not full-time retirement. After ARINC sold for $1.4 billion in 2013, Belcher began investing and helping guide firms based in Texas, Minnesota, Canada and Germany. He’s on the board and an investor with Trivalent, a cybersecurity company in Annapolis.
While the Canadian native continues to live just across the South River from Annapolis, Belcher isn’t actively seeking to launch any new businesses in Maryland.
Instead, he pledges to dedicate his expertise and time attempting to improve the state’s business environment. Belcher is dismayed Maryland ranked 30th in CNBC’s Top States for Business list in 2016.
Our state ranks 38th in cost of living and 48th in the cost of doing business. Belcher is optimistic positive change can occur.
He says Gov. Larry Hogan is working to improve the state’s business reputation. The CNBC rankings show Maryland moved up to 23rd in economy in 2016 from 35th in 2015. The state sprang to 26th in business friendliness up from 32nd in 2015.
Belcher wants the state to adopt business-attracting programs from other states and abandon business/wealth repellants. He suggests following Minnesota’s lead in the former — a 20 percent tax rebate for Angel Investor funding up to $500,000 in cash. He’s participated in that program.
In respect to the latter, he’d abolish the state’s inheritance tax.
“I’m trying to work with the state,” he said. “Hogan is doing a great job. But, I want to be No. 1 in the world. Why can’t we be the best for business in the country?”
Maryland leaders would be wise to tap into Belcher — and other successful locally based international business leaders — to identify and remedy areas holding the state back.
Maryland has much to leverage. It ranks fifth in technology and innovation and 16th education, down from sixth in 2015. The state cannot afford to lose its education advantage.
Our knowledge-based economy is robust and poised for growth thanks to world class research institutions, the National Security Agency, Fort George G. Meade, BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and proximity to Washington, D.C.
Maryland must continue to invest in education and attract and retain top-flight researchers whose innovations can be turned into marketable products. That’s where we can excel.
It’s a mistake, however, to view rankings without perspective.
Yes, the costs of business are higher here than other regions of the country. Yes, it costs more to live in Maryland.
But we shouldn’t lose sight of what makes Maryland strong. Housing values are 10th nationally, which is significant because schools are primarily funded through property taxes. The state ranks third in median household income ($73,594). It’s cheaper to buy a home in Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina, but there is no comparison when it comes to the quality of education available among those states and Maryland.
Adopting tax credit programs for angel or venture capital investors would spur greater funding for the start ups that attract elite innovators. Our edge in education and quality of life can help keep young people here. Eliminating all taxes on pensions might convince more retirees to stay in state.
With Hogan leading, the state should carve out funds to boost the $250,000 cap for the Cybersecurity Investment Incentive Tax Credit to $500,000 for eligible firms in Anne Arundel County. That’s what Allegany, Dorchester, Garrett and Somerset counties firms can receive.
Whether it’s assisting a cyber security spinoff or aiding a scientist moving his or her product from bench to bedside, the state should be an accommodating partner. It should also champion itself as the place for entrepreneurs.
Belcher is right. There is much the state can do to entice entrepreneurs and investors to our state. It just takes will, united vision and creativity.