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Top executives join up to tackle Prince George's problems
by Aruna Jain Published Aug. 1, 2003  www.gazette.net 

Privatizing school construction, streamlining county permitting and certification processes and bridging the gap between the state and Prince George's County are on the agenda of a band of corporate executives, who recently formed Greater Prince George's County Business Roundtable. 

The group will focus on educational issues, investment, economic development and public policy, said the organization's CEO M.H. "Jim" Estepp, the former county councilman who lost a county executive election bid in 2002. 

The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, formed in May, is exclusive to CEOs. Gary S. Murray Sr. of HumanVision in Landover chairs the roundtable. Other members are Reginald Daniel of Scientific & Engineering Solutions in Annapolis Junction; Michael J. Chiaramonte of Southern Maryland Healthcare Systems Inc. in Clinton; John C. Pyles of Washington Management and Development Corp.; William Chesley of W.F Chesley Real Estate in Crofton; Derek McDaniels of McDaniels Development Corp. in Lanham; Mike Little of B&W Solutions Inc. in Oxon Hill; Gary Michael of The Michael Group in Lanham; and G. Sevag Balian, of Haverford Homes in Hyattsville. Membership in the organization is by invitation only. Estepp said that a maximum of 30 CEOs will be part of the group. 

"These are successful people who want to give back," Estepp said. 

There are several issues facing the county, he said. 

"We're concerned about the fact that Prince George's has this reputation about not being business-friendly," Estepp said. 

He pointed to the majority of county real estate being residential, and the remainder being commercial. 

"We want to see more of a balance so you can raise your tax base without raising taxes," he said. 

Raising political awareness is another issue. 

"There was a feeling that people are not adequately informed about issues facing government," Estepp said. 

CB-43, a controversial bill intended to slow down economic development particularly in the rural tier of the county, was not friendly to business, he said, and that it would be better to resolve these issues than to allow them to linger as they have been. 

"How can you bring investment into Prince George's County when the rules keep changing?" he asked. 

Other issues are the permitting hassles facing real estate developers. 

"We understand that the government must have regulation, the question is how clear are the rules, how consistent are they and are they evenly and fairly enforced?" 

Streamlining the government, improving the struggling county hospital system, improving quality of life, and being a resource for publicly elected officials are some of the roundtable's goals. 

Daniel said the choice of making the roundtable exclusive to CEOs is important. 

"We are regular guys who happen to control resources," Daniel said. "When people control resources, they can help to make things happen." 

He said the roundtable plans to partner with universities or colleges such as Prince George's Community College to develop different curriculums. 

"And from that might come newly educated people that can penetrate the job market in the county," Daniel said. 

"If policies like TRIM happen to possibly work against improving the quality of life, then we'll take a position on it," he said. 

Similar coalitions exist in Montgomery and Fairfax counties. A National Business Roundtable also exists. 

Estepp said the group consists only of CEOs rather than mid- or lower-level managers to allow for on-the-spot decision making. 

The county group also will stay small. 

"It's a lot easier to get consensus from 20 or 30 people," Estepp said. 

Murray said he wants the county to be more involved with the region. 

"We want to know what's going on in the region and state, so that we're not isolated from the evolving economy," Murray said. Roundtable members will be intimately involved with the county board of trade and the Greater Washington Board of Trade, he said, and that the roundtable will complement, not replace, other organizations, such as the county's chambers of commerce or boards of trade. 

"[We want to] not have our business community and community as separate entities," Murray said. 

The group will also get involved in public policy. 

"I don't think we'll shy away form being part of the discussion on TRIM or land matters," he said. 

Murray and others have had a history of community activism. 

In addition to being the governor-appointed chairman of the Department of Business and Economic Development's Economic Development Commission, Murray put up $200,000 last year to start We The People, a nonpartisan group formed to educate county voters on candidates. 

Daniel, 44, lives in Mitchellville and just formed the nonprofit Assimilation Into Mainstream Society Economically, a group that counsels and helps employ teenagers. 

The roundtable will hold a forum on Sept. 19 at Prince George's Community College. 

"These CEOs take business very seriously and take their commitment to the county very seriously," Estepp said.

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