Comptroller Meets With Business Leaders

WEST OCEAN CITY – If resort business leaders were hoping for good news when they met with State Comptroller Peter Franchot on Monday, they certainly didn’t come away from the informal gathering satisfied.

Franchot met with Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce leaders on Monday as part of a tour of the state to find out what is going on in the communities. Franchot said the intent of the visit was to gauge how resort business leaders were reacting to economic conditions in the state as another summer approaches.

“We’re looking to hear from the grass roots,” he said. “Our figures are pretty horrible, and quite frankly we’re a little frustrated with chasing our tails, so we’re going out to try to get a read from everybody about what’s going on in the trenches.”

The comptroller told business leaders he believed the resort community might be insulated somewhat from staggering economy.

“The economic stress is so incredible around the state, but I think you might be a little buffered down here because you have such a great reputation,” he said. “I’m trying to find out from you if you all are sober or bullish about the upcoming season.”

If Franchot had any optimism about an economic turnaround in Maryland, he certainly didn’t convey that message to the Ocean City chamber members in attendance.

“There is a day of reckoning coming, I can assure you,” he said. “This is a really bad, ugly recession and don’t expect it to get any better for at least a year or two.”

Franchot addressed resort business leaders at the meeting in an informal round-table discussion of the issues, which included among other things air service to and from the Ocean City Airport and the perception of Maryland an unfriendly state for business. Whether it was a coincidence or not is not known, but the comptroller’s staff told him it was time to go when the latter was broached.

“The complaints about Maryland being unfriendly to business come from local tax laws and regulations,” he said. “The problem is not with state tax policy. I’ve been emphatic about not increasing taxes, especially during the downturn. But I’ve also said if it’s on the books, let’s make sure we’re collecting it. We have to make sure everybody pays what the law says, but we also have to be sensitive to small business.”

Perhaps the lightest moment in the discussion came from Kite Loft owner Jay Knerr, who said he anticipated a decent summer despite the economy.

“Clearly less people are coming to Ocean City, but those who are coming are spending more money,” he said. “If you can sell kites in this economy, things are pretty good.”