With its proximity to the nation’s capital, access to its foreign embassies, and the state’s related ecosystem of federal funding and contract work, Maryland is host to a growing number of businesses taking their products and services to the international market, said Signe Pringle, assistant secretary for business and industry sector development at the Maryland Department of Commerce.
In 2018, Maryland’s exports to the world totaled $12.1 billion — a $2.7 billion increase over the previous year, she said. The figure doesn’t include the export of services. In 2017 (the last year for which figures were available) service exports totaled $14 billion, according to Pringle.
She suggests that companies considering expanding to a global market look at their business and its capacity from many angles.
“A lot of times companies have different reasons for diversifying and going global,” she said. “Some people have excess capacity; they might have a consumer market outside the U.S. … they might want to increase their portfolio. “
She said that some aerospace, defense and government contractors have taken work overseas to build client lists.
Business owners considering going global should start internally to assess their company’s readiness, Pringle said.
Some businesses mistakenly believe they are ready for the international market before assessing the willingness of management and staff to do so, or before investigating profit margins or the differing field of competitors.
“A lot has to do with commerce,” she said. “You’ve got to think of the legal considerations and logistics.”
Developing an understanding of cultural differences tends to be more important than understanding the language most commonly spoken in a country where one seeks to do business, though fluency in a language is helpful, she Pringle, while noting many leaders throughout the world speak English.
“It doesn’t always work as direct as it is here,” she said. “It’s easy to offend your potential clients by not understanding their cues and protocol.”
All that weighed, a business owner who has buy-in from company stakeholders to take their products or services internationally would benefit from calling Pringle’s office for any help or insight navigating the market transition, she said.
“We’re the first responders when it comes to questions Maryland exporters have,” she said.
Pringle worked as managing director of the state’s office of international trade and investment for 10 years prior to her post heading the growth of the state’s biotechnology and cybersecurity industries. In that role, she helped grow Maryland’s international footprint to 16 foreign offices.
At its offices throughout the globe, contingent workers for Maryland help the state’s exporters understand demand in their overseas markets, help match them with distributors, and assist them with regulations and licensing.
The state offers ExportMD travel grants to businesses to help pay for travel to international trade shows, which offer companies — many of them with between five and 50 employees — opportunities to network with and find investors. In May, the state awarded 34 ExportMD grants to such businesses.
Among the companies included in the most recent round of grants were Securityhunter, a government security solutions provider that already traveled with the state commerce department to Mexico City as part of its state-led delegation, and Galen Robotics, a Johns Hopkins University spinout that traveled to BIO 2019 with the Maryland delegation a month later.
“These companies do report back hundreds of millions of dollars in export sales,” Pringle said during a recent interview.
Most companies throughout the state doing business overseas (about 88 percent) are small- to medium-sized companies providing a mix of services and manufactured goods, she said.
She said that companies find value in the partnerships Maryland has forged with international trade and economic development chapters, and in the assistance the state can provide.
“We have the resources and expertise here that we can help the company,” she said. “They’re not on their own.”
The state continues to build on its past successes building business bridges overseas.
In June, the Maryland Department of Commerce signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Kingdom’s Midlands Engines — home to the greatest number of medical technology and device companies in the U.K. — to collaborate on life sciences services offered in the two regions (Maryland is a leader in life sciences in the U.S.), according to a state press release.
Since a 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between the state commerce department and Dutch economic development organizations, the Maryland-Netherlands Cyber and Security Technologies Soft Landing Platform has hosted multiple networking programs and informational sessions with like-businesses here and abroad. Within a year of its startup, three companies — Ausley Associates, System 1 Inc., Canali Inc, and the Credentialed Mobile Device Security Professional (CMDSP) — had traveled to the Netherlands through the Soft Landing Program.
In September 2018, the Maryland Department of Commerce led a delegation of six Maryland-based companies to Africa Aerospace & Defense 2018 in Tshwane, South Africa — the largest such exhibition on the continent.
“These unique programs and formalized partnerships have proven to be very successful,” Pringle said.
This article is featured in the 2019 edition of The Daily Record’s Expanding Opportunities Resource Guide for Small, Minority and Women Businesses. Published in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs, Expanding Opportunities explores diversity, entrepreneurship and innovation in Maryland’s small business community. Read more from Expanding Opportunities on this website or read the digital edition.