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Maryland trolling for trade in Asia

Maryland’s overseas economic development efforts stretch beyond occasional gubernatorial visits with dozens of business leaders in tow.

The Department of Business and Economic Development runs 11 foreign trade offices in 10 countries, including one each in China and South Korea, and two in Vietnam.

The Maryland Center in Shanghai was founded in 1996, and is one of three offices that run on guaranteed funding.

DBED spends $175,000 a year on the China office, $155,000 for its European office in Paris and $139,808 for the Maryland/Israel Development Center in the port city of Haifa.

The other eight offices, including those in Seoul, South Korea, and Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, Vietnam, operate on contingency contracts that pay for export assistance provided to Maryland companies and based on the number of jobs created and capital expended in Maryland as a result of foreign direct investment.

“We evaluate their performance every year,” said Signe Pringle, who oversees the foreign trade offices for DBED. “If there is nothing going on, no leads coming, then we shut them down and open others.”

Pringle said the contingency offices are usually law firms or consultants with a presence in Maryland and are not barred from having other public or private economic development clients. The first opened in Seoul in 2008, and the most recent additions were in Russia, India and Colombia.

None of the contingency offices has been paid for bringing foreign investment to the state so far, Pringle said, but DBED spent $48,659 for export assistance provided to Maryland businesses in fiscal 2010.