In pitch to German trade fair, Howard companies get boost from county Trip offers chance of foreign exposure HOWARD COUNTY BUSINESS

November 05, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

The Howard County Department of Economic Development has set its sights far and wide -- worldwide.

A business group from the department and three Columbia-based bio-medical firms are going to MEDICA, an international trade show for medical and biological technologies Nov. 18 to 21 in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Several companies from Howard have participated individually in the trade show before. But this will be the first time the businesses will be joined by a county government representative to form a Howard County wing of Maryland's state exhibition booth.

The department has several goals for the trip: Make contacts with international biotechnology companies that might want to open a division in the United States; visit with executives from foreign-owned companies that have a presence in Howard and may want to expand; and promote the overseas distribution of technological products produced in Howard.

"A lot of companies at MEDICA are looking to establish U.S. distribution operations," said Kirk D. Fancher, a DED business liaison who helped plan the trip. "We can take advantage of that interest and get our foot in the door.

"Also, a lot of Howard County biotechnology companies are not going. We get to pitch them and get their catalogs in the hands of those who might want their services or products."

The trade show will attract about 1,400 exhibitors from about 30 countries, and roughly 105,000 visitors, said Mr. Fancher, who added that many chief officers of large companies attend.

Business liaison Linda H. Cooper will be the department's representative at MEDICA. Mr. Fancher will not attend because of a chronic back problem.

Mr. Fancher and Ms. Cooper are hoping that the exposure will establish Howard County as a "point of contact" in the international bio-technology community. The county has one of the highest concentrations of international and high technology firms in the state, Mr. Fancher said.

Howard will be the only Maryland jurisdiction with government representation at MEDICA, said Sheila Dixon, a state international trade specialist.

L Thirteen companies will have exhibitions at the state booth.

New Horizons Diagnostics Corp. of Columbia, which produces medical diagnostic test kits for human diseases, will be attending MEDICA for the fourth straight year.

"We're really bullish on the penetration of international markets by U.S. companies," said New Horizons Vice President Dave Trudil. "We have a technological leg up in the medical and biotechnology fields on other countries. It's important to exploit that opportunity."

The 10-year-old company's international sales have increased four-fold over the last three years, attributable primarily to its participation in MEDICA, said Mr. Trudil. International sales in five continents make up about 40 percent of New Horizons' business, he said.

"We've gotten leads from Sweden and Finland in past years," said Karen Packan, marketing specialist for the 35-employee firm. "Who knows, with Russia opening up, maybe we'll get leads from there."

The company has fielded inquiries from large international corporations that are interested in marketing test kits in Third World nations, said Mr. Trudil. MEDICA will offer a chance to meet them, as well as current distributors and other companies interested in establishing partnerships, he said.

Stellar Bio Systems Inc. of Columbia, a 10-year-old firm that also produces diagnostic tests for diseases, has increased its international sales from zero to about 25 percent of its total business since attending MEDICA for the last two years, said president John Brewer.

"Every country there has an interest in health care," he said. "Some are more socialistic and do a lot more testing."

Howard County will spend about $16,000 to promote and market the county and the three companies, Mr. Fancher said. The money comes from the Export Promotion Assistance Program, a state matching grant program designed to develop international markets for local companies.

The companies will have to pay their own airfare, lodging and other expenses.

But some of the companies' costs, such as marketing and pavilion space, will be subsidized by the grant. Mr. Brewer said government will pick up about half of an estimated $8,000 bill.

Under current economic conditions, "I would never have spent eight thousand to do this, but I'd spend three or four thousand," said Mr. Brewer. "I was just astounded the county was going to do this. It shows they're being very progressive."

The third company attending MEDICA will be Advanced Biotechnologies Inc., which produces and purifies viruses and develops other biological products used to conduct research on cancer and infectious diseases.

The company will seek to contract with distributors and forge joint ventures with pharmaceutical companies, said president and research director James E. Whitman Jr. The company, which has participated in other international trade exhibitions, now has individual dealings with countries in Europe and the Far East, he said.

"We're trying to expand our markets," he said. "It's difficult for a small company to make it in the international market without significant capital. But we're lucky. Countries all over the world need [virus strains]."

The county's business liaisons said it will be difficult to measure the value of the trip.

"The benefits could be spread out over three to five years," said Ms. Cooper.

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