#PAGov: Rob McCord’s Actually Useful Business Experience

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You often hear centrist and right-leaning commentators say that what we really need in politics are some common sense-wielding businessmen, and I generally never buy that.

Making payroll and other aspects of running a business do seem very difficult and do require a lot of a certain kind of talent, but I don’t see what the overlap with governance is supposed to be. After all, you never see a successful Mayor get recruited to go run a big company after he’s finished in office. Why would it work the other way around? In most cases, experience at the firm level just will not prepare you for thinking about the much wider economic policy issues at a regional, state, or national level.

Rob McCord’s business experience,
as described here by Tom Fitzgerald, is a little different. He’s had a lot of experience in both public policy and in future-oriented sectors like technology and life-sciences. He headed a think tank founded by Al Gore and John Heinz. He has been involved with PA’s business incubators like Ben Franklin Technology Partners, who provide office space and counseling for new start-ups trying to grow their companies:

McCord, of Bryn Mawr, graduated from Harvard University in 1982 and went to work for then-U.S. Rep. Norman Mineta (D., Calif.), who later became U.S. transportation secretary. McCord also headed a policy think tank founded by then-Sens. Al Gore and John Heinz called the Congressional Institute for the Future.

Later, he earned an MBA at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and became a venture capitalist. McCord joined Safeguard Scientifics of Wayne, a holding company that invests in technology and life-sciences firms, then went out on his own, becoming wealthy.

In 2008, he was elected treasurer in his first foray into elective politics. He was reelected last year.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s career in private equity proved a liability last year, but “we were in very different lines of business,” McCord said. “My business was about growth capital, not breaking things up. My own capital was at risk – we made money only if the people we invested in made money.”

To me, these are relevant business experiences for a Governor, because McCord has learned a lot about how new businesses grow, and specifically businesses in emerging sectors of the economy like bio-tech and clean energy. This is crucially important. There’s a stylized fact you often hear politicians recite that most new jobs are created by small businesses. That’s not really correct. Most new jobs come from *new* businesses scaling up into larger businesses.

Unfortunately, most of the policy ideas you see organized business associations pushing are all about rent-seeking and protections for incumbent businesses – not ideas for growing new businesses or reducing barriers to entry for new firms. There’s often a big difference between pro-business and pro-market policy ideas, and we need a Governor who knows the difference, knows how to make markets work for people, and wants to knock down the policy barriers blocking new start-ups from taking on entrenched companies.

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