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Best Week, Worst Week: Independent Can Co. weathers tariff storm; TEDCO reeling after audit, COO departure

best-worst-021619A Maryland manufacturer in the crosshairs of losing $1 million because of U.S. steel tariffs last summer is now optimistic about 2019, while another blow to TEDCO this week has left the tech development group scrambling after the sudden departure of its president and chief operating officer.

Business writer Tim Curtis reported Monday that Belcamp-based Independent Can Company has come back from what President and CEO Richard Huether called the “cliff” of a 25 percent tariff on steel imposed by President Donald Trump. Heuther says the company’s operations have stabilized and it can now look forward to the future.

Independent Can began applying to the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security for tariff exclusions last spring, shortly after the Trump Administration began exploring tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. The company filed 38 exclusion requests, 11 of which were granted. One was denied and the other 26 have been in an appeal period since last October, but Huether expects they will all be denied eventually. On the bright side, Independent Can is now owed about $200,000 from tariffs it paid because of exclusions that were granted after the fact.

Independent Can was able to take the hit in part because at the same time the tariffs were being implemented, domestic steel companies raised their prices, too. As a result, the company found prices for foreign steel, which is the only steel with the specifications they need, comparable to the price charged domestically.

Meanwhile, the Maryland Technology Development Corporation’s president and COO departed as the agency was hit with a highly critical legislative audit.

Curtis reported Wednesday that no reason was given for John Wasilisin’s sudden resignation, but it came as a new legislative audit took issue with some of TEDCO’s funding practices. The audit, released earlier in February, found issues that included directing funding to companies that were not primarily based in Maryland and investing in companies that had associations with the advisory committee of the Maryland Venture Fund, which provides venture capital to early-stage startup companies.

The audit found that more than $21 million from the MVF was invested in companies that two of the fund’s three advisory committee members were associated with. It also found that millions were invested in companies that had disclosed they intended to leave Maryland.

On Thursday, CEO George Davis didn’t draw any direct correlation between the audit and the 63-year-old Wasilisin’s resignation, saying the 12-year TEDCO veteran has been thinking of leaving the organization for some time. He did, though, strike a determined tone in assessing the audit’s findings, saying the organization will attend to the compliance issues and he was up to the task of making sure that happens quickly.