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Maryland opening trade office in Africa

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s economic development agency announced Wednesday that it will open a trade office in Africa in an attempt to lure companies and jobs to the Free State.

The state’s Department of Business and Economic Development will open the office in Nigeria, where personnel will also deal with eight other African countries.

In a statement, DBED Secretary Christian S. Johansson called sub-Saharan Africa “the second fastest growing region in the world.”

“With this new office, we will not only be able to promote our state as a gateway to the U.S. market and attract African companies to Maryland but also provide expert guidance to our businesses that want to access the African market,” Johansson said.

The office will be run by Washington, D.C.-based Grid2Grid LLC and will receive state money based on its ability to attract companies to Maryland. Sub-Saharan Africa was targeted because its average Gross Domestic Product growth over the last decade was 5.5 percent.

The African Development Bank says Africa’s middle class has tripled in the last 30 years, to more than 310 million people.

“As an American company that specializes in emergent markets with a focus on Africa, we have been helping companies develop trade and investment projects on the continent for many years,” said Asoka Ranaweera, the company’s managing partner. “We are pleased to have been chosen to represent the state of Maryland and look forward to helping Maryland companies do business in Africa.”

Maryland has been active in seeking to do business with foreign companies. Last winter, Gov. Martin O’Malley led a trade mission in India in order to develop relationships with companies there. Similar trips have been made to China, South Korea and Vietnam.

According to statistics compiled by the Organization for International Investment in Washington, D.C., 5 percent of Maryland jobs are provided by U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies. More than 30 percent of those jobs are in the manufacturing industry.

Nancy L. McLernon, president and CEO of the organization, said Maryland is above the national average in doing business with foreign companies, an important advantage as the state attempts to stem a loss of jobs that has caused the unemployment rate to rise to 7 percent.

“International investment is an often forgotten part of the global economy,” McLernon said. “Direct investment here is something where, if we took more market share, it would have a real impact on jobs and growth and manufacturing.”

The United States used to be the beneficiary of 40 percent of global investment, McLernon said. As the market has grown, the country’s share has shrunk to 18 percent.

“The competition for global investment has gotten more intense over the years,” she said. “It used to be global companies of course would come to the U.S. … but other countries have really stepped up their game.”

Maryland ought to focus on staying ahead of the curve in attracting foreign subsidiaries, she said. The more the state focuses on fostering international investment, “the better chances they’d have in trying to pull [themselves] ahead of others in terms of getting benefits from growth.”

About 400 foreign companies already have offices in Maryland, and DBED has offices in China, France, Colombia, Korea, India, Taiwan, Vietnam, Russia, Israel and the western Balkans.

In the last year, the agency has attracted 15 foreign companies, which DBED says will translate into 300 jobs.

In addition to Nigeria, the new trade office will attempt to foster relationships with companies in Ghana, Niger, Djibouti, Tanzania, Mozambique, Liberia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali.