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Friday Five

May 24, 2024 | This week's latest on Maryland business and government

1 — Dali has left Key Bridge wreckage site, but work is far from done, Governor Moore says

Salvage crews have moved the Dali from the wreckage site of the Key Bridge. The massive container ship docked at the Port of Baltimore Monday, nearly two months after it set out from the Seagirt Marine Terminal, bound for Sri Lanka. The voyage ended after just a couple of miles when the ship lost power and struck one of the bridge’s support piers, bringing most of the structure down in seconds. The removal of the Dali from the wreckage puts the Port of Baltimore, one of the largest economic engines in Maryland, at the cusp of a return to full operations.

Road to recovery: The tallest task on the horizon is rebuilding the bridge, which state officials are projecting could take roughly four years and close to $2 billion. Governor Moore conceded Tuesday morning that the timeline was “aggressive,” but that it was one his administration planned on hitting. In a U.S. Senate Finance Committee subcommittee hearing on Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness on Wednesday, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Vice President for Transportation, Infrastructure and Supply Chain Policy John Drake highlighted the critical role of ports in the economy during his testimony — discussing the urgent need to rebuild with Senator Cardin.

2 — Maryland sees largest jump in new jobs in 15 months, adding 7,800 jobs in April

Maryland reported its largest jump in employment in the past 15 months by adding 7,800 jobs in April, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report also showed job growth in March was healthier than initially reported, with a revision to last month’s estimates that added 500 total jobs. April’s report is the first to fully incorporate jobs data after the collapse of the Key Bridge, which disrupted operations at the Port of Baltimore, impacting hundreds of businesses and an estimated 20,000 workers who support daily port functions. Most jobs at the port lie in the transportation, warehousing and utilities sector, which had a decrease of 1,000 jobs in April.

Labor force participation: Maryland also saw an increase in its labor force participation rate, rising by 0.2 percent to 65.2 percent. Although Maryland’s unemployment rate ticked up slightly from 2.5 percent to 2.6 percent in April, it remains the fifth lowest in the nation. The uptick can largely be attributed to more Marylanders entering or re-entering the labor force.

3 — Data center buys 150 acres on campus in Frederick County

Quantum Loophole has sold 150 acres of land on its 2,100-acre data center campus in Frederick County to an undisclosed tenant. The unnamed tenant is the second to enter an official land acquisition agreement with Quantum. The first, Aligned Data Centers, purchased 75 acres on the Adamstown campus in May 2022. That project was put on hold after a state agency denied the company’s request for an exemption related to the number of backup generators it could install. A second company, Colorado-based Rowan Digital Infrastructure, received conditional approval from the Frederick County Planning Commission in January of this year to build its 777,000-square-foot Bauxite Data Center on a 151-acre site on the campus.

Competitiveness: Investment in data centers and other key technologies will better secure Maryland's future and regional economic competitiveness.

4 — Governor Moore signs hundreds of bills, budget measures

Governor Moore signed hundreds of bills during a ceremony at the State House last Thursday — among them the state budget, the authorization for a firearm prevention and intervention center, and several bills of interest to the Eastern Shore. Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson of Baltimore City called a balanced budget the “one constitutional duty” of the state Legislature during his remarks prior to a multi-hour signing ceremony. The $63 billion budget, which was the subject of inter-chamber negotiations in the Legislature’s final days, made investments in childcare, education, housing and public safety, which was the governor’s primary topic in his preliminary remarks last week.

What's next: The governor has until May 28, the day required by law, to make a decision about such legislation. The governor can either sign, veto or let legislation become law without a signature.

5 — Let’s make Maryland ‘open for business’ again

Last month, Google unveiled plans to invest more than $1 billion to expand its data centers in Virginia. The investment promises to create hundreds of jobs and serve as an economic engine, generating tax revenue not only in Loudon and Prince William counties, where the centers are to be located, but throughout the entire state. For Virginia, this sort of economic development is not unprecedented. The state is currently ranked as the second-best state for business in the nation. Meanwhile, Maryland stands at a crossroads, holding the necessary ingredients to be one of the most competitive states but consistently losing out to those around us. Maryland beat Virginia in job growth for four consecutive years between 2015-2018. Maryland was open for business then, and we can be again.

Numbers know no lie: In January, the Maryland Comptroller's Office released a report indicating that our economy has not seen substantial growth since 2017. The Maryland Chamber's 2024 Competitiveness Redbook paints a similar picture — indicating our state's ranking of 47th in cost of doing business, 49th in percent job growth; among other poor showings. Between the lack of new economic opportunities and persistently surging costs, we are witnessing a decline in the state’s residents and a widening gap between Virginia and Maryland’s growth.

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