One on One is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy business leaders. Elizabeth Nitze is executive director of the World Trade Center Institute, a private, non-profit organization designed to assist Maryland businesses in international trade.
Q. The World Trade Center Institute appears to have been struggling for the last two and half years to define its mission. Do you now have a clear concept of what the institute should be?
A.Yes. The Institute is very specifically focused on helping Maryland businesses develop international trade.
Q. You were one of the people who helped set up the Institute and select its director. Now he's gone and you're in charge and you seem to have scaled back your operations. What happened?
A. I think initially the World Trade Center Institute was given the mission statement of trying to help Maryland citizenry increase their global awareness, and my predecessor spent some time trying to define what programs might come under that sort of an umbrella. And it's a very broad umbrella which encompasses initiatives that are in the educational realm, the legislative realm, the business realm, and he tried to develop a number of programs that would encompass all of those areas. The World Trade Center Institute, however, is taxed with coming up with fifty percent of its funding from the private sector, and the questions was, "Who was going to support all of these programs?" even though many of them, if not all of them, were good ideas. And in the current economic climate, it was difficult to find support from the private sector for a number of these initiatives. Therefore, we have scaled back our programs to focus very specifically on initiatives that the business community has demonstrated a need for and a demand for and an ability to pay for.
Q. What were the first things you did when you took over?
A. When I took over from Chris Brescia, the first thing that I did was spend time with the staff and with the Board of Directors, getting a feel for which of the programs there was a demonstrated interest and need for from the business community and which of the programs we might have to view as coming in phase two or phase three of the evolution of the Institute. I paired down our budget significantly and moved us to a smaller office. I located furniture that would not cost us anything and I reduced the staff. Because we were taxed with coming up with fifty percent of our funding from the private sector, what I wanted to do was get our budget down to a level that was manageable and thereby give us the greatest chance of succeeding.
Q. What is your budget now?
A. Our budget now is $300,000. Just under that actually.
Q. And what had it been before?
A. I think it was over $800,000.
Q. And what had your staff level been and what is now?
A. It was seven or eight people at one time and we now have four people.
Q. What programming changes did you make?
A. After working with the staff and doing some market research with the business community and talking to my Board of Directors about what programs would be most meaningful in assisting the business community develop international trade, we decided to focus our programming on seminars, which were either country-specific, industry-specific or trade-issues specific. At this point, we have a full range of programs that are either taking a country or region of the world that it's important for our businesses to understand and consider doing business in, or we will take an industry that is important to Maryland and for companies in that industry, we will develop programming which alerts them to foreign-market opportunities and how to take advantage of them. And the final set of seminars that we do is really a nuts-and-bolts series, which is lawyers, bankers, freight forwarders, trade specialists and case-study companies talking about the full range of issues that a company encounters and needs to understand as they go international.
Q. You seem to have a rather unique management style, sitting in a cluttered room with your staff, stuffing envelopes. Aren't you worried about your image?