2 Md. men make pitch for Wales in North America

November 08, 1990|By David Conn

Wales is known as the land of the Celts, of vast green meadows and coal mines, of poet Dylan Thomas and actor Richard Burton, and of towns with tongue-torturing names such as Merthyr Tydfil and Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrn-drobwllllantysiliogogogoch- no kidding.

Raymond Carignan and Barry Bogage are selling a different vision of Wales: It's an image of the land of Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Hoover vacuums, Ford automobiles and more Japanese manufacturing investment than in any other country outside of the United States. That's the Wales they're pitching to U.S. and Canadian businesses.

Formerly an economic-development officer for Baltimore and Harford counties, and for the state of Maryland, Mr. Carignan now is chief executive of the North American arm of Welsh Development International, the marketing and international arm of the quasi-governmental Welsh Development Agency.

He and Mr. Bogage, a former economic-development director for Howard County, are responsible for attracting North American businesses to Wales. They say Maryland economic-development officials could learn a thing or two from their new employer.

The businesses they court, primarily those with annual sales exceeding $10 million and at least 100 employees, recognize the need for access to the European market before the end of 1992, when most commercial borders between European Community countries will disappear, Mr. Carignan says.

"It's the world's largest market, and it's becoming the United States of Europe," he says.

At the same time, with the U.S. economy faltering, Mr. Carignan and Mr. Bogage acknowledge the challenge they face in trying to convince businesses that now is the time to expand into Wales. In that sense, a large part of their work is prospecting, sowing the seeds for when the economy recovers.

Even more challenging is the name-recognition factor. "The No. 1 problem is people don't know what or where Wales is," Mr. Carignan says.

"We've got to get people to think that when they make up a list of places [in the United Kingdom] to put their new plant, they don't just put England and Scotland and give up the list."

To get Wales on the list, the Welsh Development Agency has a bag of tricks more powerful than any U.S. agency's, Mr. Carignan says.

Formed in 1976 by Parliament, the agency is allowed to keep all of the money it reaps from investments. It has an annual budget of $247 million, almost 550 employees and says it has attracted $3.4 billion of capital investment to Wales that has created or "safeguarded" 48,830 jobs.

Aside from the usual marketing, information and job-training services most agencies provide, the Welsh agency is a commercial developer -- the second-largest industrial landlord in the United Kingdom with 19.2 million square feet under management.

The agency actually constructs buildings to the specifications of prospective clients.

"I've been 15 years in county government," Mr. Carignan says, "and I built one 30,000-square-foot building."

He left the public sector 15 months ago after being recruited by a headhunter hired by the development agency. Seven months ago, he brought in Mr. Bogage. They work out of an office near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The agency also oversees urban renewal, rural conversion and land-reclamation projects, primarily to turn abandoned coal fields into office and industrial parks. And the agency last year made $18.8 million in loans, grants or direct investments in companies.

"We can give a company 20 to 25 percent of its capital investment back in the form of a grant over three years or so," Mr. Bogage says, "which can be pretty attractive."

The pitch has worked on more than 130 U.S. companies that have put facilities in Wales, including Kellogg Co., Hoover Co., Ford Motor Co. and, a recent success of Mr. Carignan and Mr. Bogage, Alberto-Culver Co., a manufacturer of health and beauty aids.

Four months ago, Alberto-Culver announced it would build a new facility in Wales, even if it can't figure out how to pronounce Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. . . .

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