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As Maryland continues to recover from the outbreak of COVID-19, Deputy Transportation Secretary R. Earl Lewis, Jr. joined other state leaders on June 18 for a virtual discussion on how to bolster the region’s economic development efforts.

The plan?

To continue working together at the state and local levels on transportation, planning and labor initiatives, ultimately contributing to Maryland’s economic growth.

“Transportation and economic development go hand in hand,” Deputy Secretary Lewis said.

The discussion occurred during the Maryland Economic Development Association’s 2020 Primer for Economic Development in Maryland. Deputy Secretary Lewis was joined by Secretary of Planning Rob McCord and Assistant Secretary of Labor James Rzepkowski.

The event was held online and viewed by approximately 40 economic development professionals, many of whom were new to the field.

Transportation plays an important role in the economic development of the state, Deputy Secretary Lewis told the group, as businesses rely on highways, transit, rail lines and other forms of travel to move people and goods. More than $2 billion in economic development is planned or in progress along the Purple Line light rail line in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

“We touch just about every business, both public and private,” Deputy Secretary Lewis said. “We take our role seriously as stakeholders and collaborators.”

MDOT works regularly with local governments, chambers of commerce and other business organizations to address their top transportation priorities. Municipalities lay out their priorities annually for MDOT to consider as part of the state’s Consolidated Transportation Program; state transportation leaders then tour all 23 counties and Baltimore City to determine how to best meet the public’s needs.

“It is truly a collaboration,” Deputy Secretary Lewis said.

Despite the State of Emergency, MDOT has been working hard on projects that are important to residents and businesses across the state.

Construction was completed at the I-270 and Watkins Mill Road interchange in Gaithersburg, a $124 million project that will spur economic growth, improve residents’ mobility and relieve congestion.

Repaving was completed on the westbound span of the Bay Bridge, creating a safer structure. The lane reopened in April and now allows commercial vehicles to move much-needed goods without delay.

The MDTA held a virtual project update in May for the I-95/Belvidere interchange project, which will spur economic growth within the Principio Enterprise Zone.

Utility work was completed on Route 1 in College Park in advance of a $29 million project to improve safety and allow for a better flow of traffic.

MDOT works closely with the Maryland Office of Planning in preparing for and executing projects across the state. The Office of Planning offers data, technical assistance and other services.

Planning Secretary McCord stressed the important work of his planners, who are stationed throughout Maryland, in preparation for future growth.

“They work with local governments (and) they know what’s going on,” he said. “They work closely with all the other state agencies to get answers.”

Workforce development also is key to the state’s future growth, said Assistant Secretary Rzepkowski, a former delegate.

“I often say there can’t be economic development without workforce development,” he said, “and vice versa.”

Deputy Secretary Lewis touched on MDOT’s own workforce development initiative, Opportunity MDOT, created in conjunction with the I-495/I-270 P3 Program. The initiative offers resources, networking and numerous other benefits for small, minority-owned and disadvantaged businesses, as well as residents looking to join the workforce.

MDOT’s Office of Small and Minority Business Policy held a handful of webinars recently for businesses that are seeking to be certified as small, minority-owned or disadvantaged. A total of 578 people participated.

“This shows how much small businesses and the public are counting on the state to make sure we have a strong economic rebound coming out of the pandemic,” Deputy Secretary Lewis said.