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Maryland Expands International Reach

As many as 150 jobs are expected to be created in Maryland in the next few years by foreign companies that set up operations in the state within the past year, state officials said recently.

Thirteen companies from Israel, Russia and countries in Europe and Asia have opened Maryland offices in the past 10 months, compared with just two new foreign companies that the state helped to attract in 2007, officials said.

Gov. Martin O’Malley and economic development officials said stepped-up outreach efforts are paying off. Companies in bioscience, energy, technology, defense and aerospace industries have opened in Howard, Harford, Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Charles counties.

“They’re really beachheads,” said Christian S. Johansson, acting secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. “These companies want to do business in the U.S., and as these companies are successful, Maryland becomes that launching pad and the place for those operations.”

It’s even more crucial in a recession to aggressively court foreign companies as a source of new jobs, O’Malley said in a statement. Foreign employers pay their workers, on average, 32 percent more than the national average wage, Johansson said.

Maryland, like every other state, is facing rising unemployment amid the worsening economy. The state’s jobless rate spiked to 5.8 percent in December, the latest figures available and a 15-year high. The state lost jobs during a 12-month period for the first time since 2003, according to preliminary statistics released last month by the U.S. Labor Department.

In January alone, the state received notifications from several private employers about pending layoffs and closures affecting more than 600 employees, mostly starting in March.

Despite the slowdown, the manager of Mecanique d’Aquitaine, one of the 13 new foreign companies, said yesterday that he feels confident about longer-term prospects of expanding in Maryland, where the company hopes to tap into demand in the aerospace industry. The company, a subsidiary of a company based in southwest France, opened in October in Jessup with five employees. It makes precision parts for aircraft, with customers including Boeing Co.

“We have good leads and are talking to the right people,” said Raphael Coeffic, Mecanique’s manager. “We feel very confident we can win contracts.”

The state’s international business team has led economic development missions to targeted countries to promote the state, including one in September that visited Russia, China, South Africa and Finland. The state also has opened new trade offices in Japan, Canada, South Africa, Brazil and Montenegro. The department had an international travel budget of $146,000 in fiscal 2008.

(Written by Lorraine Mirabella, Baltimore Sun, February 12, 2009)

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