Mary Kane was named in October 2021 as president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, on the heels of an impressive run as director of the U.S. State Department’s National Museum of American Diplomacy. During her tenure, Kane spearheaded the revival of fundraising efforts and the lobbying of Congress to rename and re-brand the institution, thus heightening the public’s interest in the history and significance of the State Department.

Mary Kane. (Maryland Chamber of Commerce photo)

Her hiring at the Chamber brought Kane, an attorney by trade, back to the Free State, as the Wilmington, Del., native previously served as secretary of state in Maryland from 2003-2007. She then served as executive director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from 2008-2011.

What were your biggest successes from last year’s legislative session?

Thirty-one bills were opposed by the Chamber and only five passed, so that was our highlight. We also had very good discussions with the legislature about the Family Leave Bill; unfortunately, they ended up passing it, though it was amended beforehand to address some of our concerns.

We’ve been in good communication with Department of Labor about it since, so we’re still working on it.

What are your priorities as you prepare for the 2024 session?

We’re watching for any business taxes that the governor’s office or the general assembly wants to promote, as well as transportation funding solutions. The big issue is that our Transportation Trust Fund is diminishing with the push for electric vehicles since it depends on a gas tax. So there needs to be a way to replenish that fund.

But, of course, there are other issues, such as data privacy. We support a comprehensive approach that parallels successful policies in neighboring states. Others are military retirement tax relief, addressing the workforce shortage and help for our citizens who need child care. Our state’s low unemployment rate is partially due to parents leaving the workforce to care for their children.

But all told, we simply need increase Maryland’s competitiveness for business and workforce, especially when compared to neighboring states.

How many members did the Chamber have before COVID-19? How many does it have now?

Before COVID-19 we had around 4,500 members and today we have amassed 6,800 across the state, most of which are small businesses. Remember, every business starts as a small business and our membership runs the gamut, from one-person shops up to large corporations that began as small concerns Marriott, Lockheed Martin, McCormick, etc. ― as hard as that is to imagine.

What are your thoughts on the state’s business tax structure?

To answer that question, I’ll simply say that the Tax Foundation Facts & Figures Report for 2023 Maryland ranked 46th out of the 50 states. So it’s very difficult to start a business in Maryland, build a business or to attract out-of-state organizations.
What makes it even harder is that Pennsylvania is lowering its corporate tax rate, which will make ours higher than any other state in the region.

What do you think about Maryland’s approach to transportation?

There will be much discussion about that topic during the session. I was appointed by Gov. Wes Moore to the Transportation Revenue & Infrastructure Needs (or TRAIN) Commission. Projects to be discussed include I-270, the American Legion Bridge, the Red Line and the Purple Line, to name a few.

Maryland doesn’t rank very well on roadways, infrastructure or maintenance. Transportation is critical for us to get goods out of the Port of Baltimore, get folks to work, get students to school, and get products and services to consumers, so we’d better get moving.

How does the Chamber support the entrepreneurial community?

That’s key to any thriving business community and we do everything we can. It makes Maryland better to grow our own businesses and for us that starts with colleges, especially the community colleges. But we are also doing more outreach to young entrepreneurs, such as our new program named HYPE: Helping Young Professionals Excel. It gives young professionals opportunities for development, civic engagement, leadership growth and networking.

What are your thoughts on Maryland’s data privacy policy?

We want to take a comprehensive approach and want our legislators to understand what’s been effective in neighboring states. It is important to avoid a patchwork of laws. We need a clear set of rules.

How can Maryland improve child care availability?

By making it affordable while child care facilities stay sustainable. We’re examining different ways in which the legislature can help providers, and we’re thinking about how available office space might be repurposed to house child care facilities, for instance. If employers really want people to come back to the office, we need to address this issue.

What can participants learn in the Maryland Chamber Foundation’s Teacher Externship Program?

Employers are starting to understand that workers don’t necessarily need a four-year degree to master a particular job. So, we find companies in need of workers with certain skills and bring a teacher into their workplace so they can observe what happens in the business. This helps our educators better advise students as they figure out what they want to do. Teachers are great at doing just that.

The externships last four weeks in the summer and they receive a stipend via the Maryland Chamber Foundation for their work and time. We are the first organization in Maryland to take this approach, and in the five years we’ve offered this program, 76 educators have taken part, creating a huge ripple effect across schools, students and communities.

What are the details about the 2024 National Civics Bee?

This is a newer initiative that I was asked to try out by my colleagues with the U.S. Chamber. In partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s The Civic Trust with local and regional chambers of commerce across Maryland, we ask middle school students to submit a 500-word essay about a civic problem.

The essays are judged at the local level, with the top entries selected to compete in their local Bees for recognition, cash prizes and the chance to progress to the statewide National Civics Bee for Maryland. Finalists at each level have a chance to share their thoughts and solutions for issues ranging from gun violence, infrastructure, poverty, etc. and their observations are mind-blowing. Our statewide National Civics Bee for Maryland will be hosted by the Maryland Chamber Foundation at Bowie State University this June. That winner will have a chance to compete at the first ever national event in Washington, D.C. later this year.

How can supporting military retirees strengthen Maryland’s competitiveness?

They have a wealth of skills and great experience, and they often retire to the private sector. They are natural leaders and fill critical gaps in our state’s workforce, particularly in high-demand fields such as information technology, cybersecurity, health care and education.

It is in our best interest to keep these skilled leaders in Maryland, which is why we are asking our General Assembly to remove or at least lower the taxes on military retirement income.

What can be done to slow to loss of wealthy retirees with considerable net worth from leaving Maryland for Florida, Delaware, etc.?

We are the only state that has an estate tax and an inheritance tax, so that’s the major issue. That puts us at a direct disadvantage when it comes to creating generational wealth.

How can you measure results from events like the Chamber’s HYPE event?

By making sure these important events grow. Our first HYPE event was held at Guinness Open Gate Brewery, and we had more than 100 people come out to learn about policy and advocacy. It was amazing. The event included a great discussion about advocacy. United Healthcare, our presenting sponsor for the HYPE program, shared a story about using data when addressing an area of Baltimore City where there was a high concentration of young residents with asthma. It turned out that an apartment building was right next to a bus depot and that was the issue. And, a representative from Guinness shared the story of how advocacy and partnerships played a critical role in bringing Guinness to Maryland.

As you can see, it’s also a great way for young people to learn more about advocacy ― and how they can use it to get involved and make a difference in their communities.

What are your feelings about the state’s economy as we head into the new year?

I’m cautiously optimistic, but I’ll add that we have to stop passing legislation that doesn’t have a funding source. We passed The Blueprint for Education and the Climate Solutions bill despite not having identified the necessary funds for them to operate as intended.

What’s the state’s greatest strength?

Two things: the people in Maryland and our beautiful location in the mid-Atlantic area. We have everything here.

What’s would you say is the trademark of a Mary Kane-run operation?

That our doors are always open. We’ll talk to everyone. We may not agree on everything, but we will never close the door, especially to legislators. I may not agree with 90% of what a lawmaker says, but if that’s the case we’ll work on the remaining 10%. Or we may need to work together on different bill that will come up in another committee.

I remind my staff often – never burn any bridges (i.e. relationships), because you never know when you will need to work together in the future.