In a sparsely furnished office behind a crystal shop in downtown Reisterstown, Chandrakant Mehta is trying to develop an import-export business that will move items as diverse as used clothing, marble, crafts and plastics through the Port of Baltimore.
His office furniture consists of two bare desks, a telephone and a fax machine. The computers have arrived. He hasn't hired his staff yet. And so far he has no local business links. But he is brimming with confidence.
"We see lots of opportunity, especially in the plastics technology," said Mehta, branch manager of Atlas Exports in the United States.
The Maryland International Division, the state agency which promotes international trade, says Atlas is the only known foreign-based trading firm in the Baltimore area.
Atlas Exports began in 1979 in Bombay, India, and trades primarily in the Middle Eastern and African markets. Last year it had sales of about $5 million. Mehta said the company has been trying to develop connections in the United States for the past several years, but decided that the most expedient way of doing that would be to locate an office here. An American location, the company reasoned, would make the U.S. market more accessible and provide entry into Canada and South America as well.
After searching in New York and Virginia, the firm settled on Baltimore for its first overseas location because of this city's central location on the Eastern seaboard, its port facilities, and most importantly, because it was more economical than other places.
With cost containment a priority, the company opened in the little office in Reisterstown rather than downtown.
Mehta's goal now is to hire a small staff and begin searching for trading partners. Atlas is looking for used clothing to sell to Africa, scrap brass and plastics ingredients that can be sold in India and turned into crafts and consumer goods.