Robey, others hope to drum up business

Officials, business leaders on 12-day tour of Europe

`Excellent marketing opportunity'

County is looking to lure foreign companies to area

Howard County

October 06, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Executives from Howard County are taking a tour of Europe this week, celebrating a 25-year-old sister cities program and trying to lure more companies to the county.

A group of 10 economic development executives and government officials, including Howard County Executive James N. Robey and Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown, left Friday for a 12-day tour of France, Spain and Germany. The group plans to meet with executives of companies already in Howard and with business groups representing companies that might be interested in expanding to the United States.

The delegation also will promote goods and services of 16 Howard companies that are interested in doing business overseas, and will speak with leaders of technology incubators about forming an alliance with U.S. incubators.

The trip is the county's first international mission for economic development. Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of the county's Economic Development Authority, said Columbia's 25th anniversary of its sister city relationship with Cergy-Pontoise, France, provided the opportunity.

"In addition to renewing the vows [for sister cities], we'll wrap a business mission around it," said Story, who will be part of the delegation.

The team will spend a few days each in France, Spain and Germany, meeting with executives of businesses that have an established presence in the county. Part of the delegation also will spend time talking to managers of technology incubators hoping to create an international network of incubators that would allow graduates to more easily expand to other countries, and to more easily find partners to whom the incubator companies can license their technologies.

"I thought we can use incubators as a springboard into a foreign market - to establish a presence and let the incubator people educate the company on the four basic requirements of doing business in a foreign market, and that is culture, finance, accounting and marketing differences," said Michael Haines, senior vice president of small business development for the county authority and head of its NeoTech incubator.

The four-year goal, he said, is to have 4,000 to 5,000 companies on the network, 500 research labs and roughly 500 funding sources as members.

In each city, the delegation also will conduct a seminar to help local companies learn about doing business with the U.S. government, in hopes of generating interest from small- to medium-size companies.

Robey's trip is being paid for by the Economic Development Authority, a quasi-public agency that has a partnership with the county government.

Also on the trip are Haines, Shirley Collier, a past chairwoman of the authority's board of directors; Wayne Swann, who heads technology transfer for the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory; and representatives from the Greater Washington Initiative, another economic development group, and the Columbia Association's sister cities program.

The authority has budgeted $31,000 for the trip and expenses for five of the participants, while each of the other organizations will pay for their representatives. Story said the mission is a worthwhile trip, especially during tough economic times.

"To help buy down our office vacancy, we need to be as aggressive as we can in as many markets as we can," Story said. "We think this is an excellent marketing opportunity."

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