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Embassy Night 2015: 'Maryland is open for business'
Diplomatic Pouch / October 22, 2015

By Larry Luxner

Delegates from 45 countries mixed with nearly 200 local business executives Oct. 8 for Embassy Night — an annual event sponsored this year by the Maryland Department of Commerce, Venable LLP and the Baltimore-based World Trade Center Institute (WTCI).

Participants representing dozens of Maryland companies ranging from Alliance Engineering in Elkridge to ZBest Executive Global Transport in Glen Burnie listened as Maryland Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith outlined his plan for the future.

“It’s very special that we’re gathered here at the Ronald Reagan Building, a place that encourages public-private partnerships around the globe. This is a vision we also have in the state of Maryland,” said Wobensmith. “Economic development, in fact, is the major focus of Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration, creating more opportunities and more jobs. ‘Maryland is open for business’ is not just a motto, it’s a promise.”

Five Maryland entities were featured at Embassy Night 2015 in a video presentation: Bethesda-based Honest Tea, which now sources organic and fair-trade sugarcane from Paraguay for its beverages; Baltimore-based Terminal Corp., which imports forest products from Chile; Annapolis-based TeleCommunication Systems (TCI), which is building a training facility in Singapore to counter cyberattacks; Lutheran World Relief, a Baltimore nonprofit that’s partnering with NGOs in Nicaragua to sustainably maintain cocoa plantations, and Rockville-based Aeras, which is developing new and affordable TB vaccines with the help of its regional headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa.

Wobensmith, who took office in January along with the new governor, was once a senior Pentagon representative in Turkey; he’s also worked for the Washington-based American Foreign Policy Council, among other things.

He said that Maryland’s new Department of Commerce — known until Oct. 1 as the Department of Business and Economic Development — will take a larger role in coordinating a multi-state agency effort to better respond to business issues. The rebranded Department of Commerce will also place a renewed focus on marketing Maryland’s assets to companies overseas.

“Having friendly relations with foreign countries is vital to our state’s success. I have met with at least 20 chiefs of mission on how we can maximize our state’s potential. Every one of those embassies was amenable to maintaining contacts with our counterparts abroad,” he said, adding that Maryland currently maintains 15 “sister-state” relationships overseas and is in the process of adding a few more.

Wobensmith praised the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership, which eliminates tariffs and other protectionist measures among 12 countries including the United States, as the “most important agreement since NAFTA in 1993 — and he urged Congress to ratify it without delay, even though some Republicans and most Democrats oppose TPP.

“Washington often focuses on the act of passing bills and quickly moves on to the next one, rather than looking at the implementation of the agreement,” the secretary of state lamented. “To those looking to invest, Maryland is ideally located in the heart of the mid-Atlantic region. We have the highest income in America, we’re home to world-class universities and the best schools in the nation — and some of the biggest brands in the world.”

Wobensmith noted that on Sept. 30, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport began serving Cuba with regular, nonstop weekly charter flights to Havana — linking the two countries’ capital cities by air for the first time in 50 years.

“The Port of Baltimore continues to thrive, BWI is the leading airport in the Washington region, and it’s now undergoing an expansion for even more international service,” he said. “Gov. Hogan promises you will find an open door in our state, a seat at our table, and a friend in the governor’s office.”

Prior to the official reception and welcoming remarks by WTCI President and Executive Director Deborah Kielty, the Embassy Night 2015 agenda featured two breakout sessions: “It’s a Dynamic World. Are You Prepared” by iJet International and “Strategies to Meet the Global Demand for a Skilled Cyber Workforce” by TCI.

Bruce McIndoe is chief executive of iJet, an Annapolis-based consulting firm launched in October 1999 that now has 65 full-time analysts, 900 stringers around the world, and three regional centers in Singapore, London and the Americas.

“We run the largest global intelligence operation outside of the government,” said McIndoe, whose company specializes in what’s called “integrated risk management.”

“Our clients are forward-looking companies that understand the value of having strategic intelligence to drive their business decisions,” he said. “Then 9/11 woke everybody up to the fact that things are changing. Every year since then, the frequency and severity of incidents has been increasing worldwide.”

Fifteen years ago, said McIndoe, iJet was tracking 20 or so “kinetic conflicts” worldwide.

“Today, we have 47 active conflicts. China and India regularly shoot at each other across their border, as do the Pakistanis and Indians,” he said. “This year, a lot of things have hit the news: Ebola, ISIS, the war in Syria, and the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris.”

Among McIndoe’s predictions for 2050: vertical farms 100 or 200 stories high, using hydroponic and aeroponic technologies; completely wired human beings who will be connected online to their doctors via microchips in their bodies, and 3D printing of food and housing.

But by then, he said, 9.6 billion people will inhabit Earth — 2.5 billion more than today.

“Demand for water will increase by 35 percent, food by 40 percent and energy by 50 percent,” he said, predicting “the rise of China, instability in the Arab world, growing competition for food, water and energy, the globalization of business, technological innovations, and dramatic demographic changes.”

These include a “tremendous migration from the African continent north into Europe,” and the development of Chinese cities with more than 50 million people each.

“Russia will probably need two to five million more people to run their economy in the next 15 years. They’re not having enough babies and men are dying too early,” McIndoe said. “It’s the same with Japan, which has a fertility rate of only 1.36 per woman. They’re essentially a dying nation-state, except they won’t disappear.”

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