Chamber's new chairman

October 17, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

Small businessman Ed H. Lough said he joined the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce in 1992 because he thought it was important to be part of the voice of business in the local community.

Lough's role in that voice grew over the years as he became an active member in the Chamber.

Lough took over as chairman of the Chamber on Sept. 1.

Lough's predecessor, Tim Henry, said Lough backs his interest with personal involvement.

Henry said Lough's involvement with the Chamber's Ambassadors Committee helped get the Chamber's retention rate well above 90 percent. That's higher than the national average, said Henry, a senior vice president at Hagerstown Trust Co.

Lough credited committee members' hard work for the retention success.

Lough also is a board member of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

"He has become our connection as we become more involved and (an) issue-oriented Chamber," Henry said. "His connection with the Maryland Chamber has become very important to us."


When asked recently what his business concerns were, Lough mentioned several issues, some of which are focused on Washington County and some that are statewide issues.

- On slots

While Lough personally doesn't like slots, as a businessman and Chamber official, he supports slots in Maryland.

Lough said he works too hard for his money to gamble and he's seen gambling ruin lives. He points out that Maryland already is a gambling state with tip jars and lottery games.

"It's not just good enough to say, 'I'm opposed to slots because morally (I'm) opposed to slots,'" Lough said. Lough wants to know how opponents of slots would fund the $1.3 billion Thornton Commission public schools aid plan. The Thornton plan sends more money to the state's poorer school systems.

If their solution is to raise taxes, Lough said citizens' taxes already are high enough and the Chamber should not support increased taxes on businesses.

- On being business' watchdog for government

The Chamber needs to have a stronger voice by letting constituents know when their government representatives are casting anti-business votes, Lough said.

Lough said he agrees with Gov. Robert Ehrlich that businesspeople need to better track how government representatives are voting on business issues and stop sending donations to candidates who are anti-business.

Local Chamber officials have not taken a vote on that issue, he said.

Lough said the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly has a good pro-business voting record.

For candidates on the fence concerning business issues, Lough said Chamber officials need to do a better job educating them about what's pro-business.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce recently voted to form a political action committee to support pro-business candidates and not give money to anti-business candidates, Lough said.

Lough said local Chamber officials had not discussed whether to form a PAC and might not need one. Local chambers of commerce might be able to contribute to the state pact, he said.

- On rising health insurance premiums for small businesses

Increases in the cost of health insurance premiums for small businesses, which have 50 or fewer employees, concern Lough as a businessman and as a Chamber official, he said.

Discussions at a meeting with industry officials and at least one state legislator included looking at whether reducing state mandates for coverage would prevent premiums from increasing so rapidly, Lough said.

The state mandates approximately 49 coverages in the health insurance package for small businesses, Lough said. For example, maternity coverage used to be optional for small businesses, but now is mandated, he said. That means an employer has to pay the cost of that coverage even if the company has no female employees or has none of child-bearing age, he said.

While the Chamber has not taken a position on the issue, Lough said he personally would like to see state lawmakers continue to review ways to reduce annual health insurance premium increases for small businesses. This could include reducing some of the mandated coverages, he said.

- On education funding

Chamber officials need to let local elected officials know that it's "no longer acceptable to cut education," whether it's kindergarten through 12th grade or higher education, Lough said.

The tuition increases in the University System of Maryland schools were caused by state government not funding higher education sufficiently, Lough said.

If higher education institutions have to keep raising tuition, it is going to limit the number of people who can get an education, Lough said.

"Education must become a business issue," Lough said. "Cutting money for higher education is an anti-business move."

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