Cowan has new respect for those who drive his rigs

June 28, 2005|By BILL ATKINSON

JOE COWAN HAS been in the trucking business most of his life, yet he didn't take the wheel of a big rig until a couple of years ago at a Volvo training school in Sweden.

His load: 40,000 pounds of logs on a flatbed.

"Fortunately, nothing happened. I didn't have to back it up," said Cowan, president and CEO of Cowan Systems LLC in Baltimore. "If I had to ... I would have been dead."

If nothing else, Cowan gained an even greater appreciation for what his 1,100 truckers do for a living. And lately, he's learned that good truckers are not only skilled craftspeople, but that they are in short supply - just as he is looking to shift his company into overdrive.

To keep his fleet cranking up and down the East Coast and into the Midwest, Cowan has resorted to a tried-and-true method of making sure he has the manpower.

"We all steal each other's drivers," Cowan said. "I have always had the deepest respect for what these guys do. Those guys carry around America on their backs and no one appreciates them."

Cowan Systems is a 10-year-old firm that specializes in short hauls for companies like Coca-Cola, Costco, Volvo and Anheuser-Busch. It has hired 150 drivers in the past two months. Revenue is growing at a 20 percent clip this year, and he expects it to reach $170 million by year's end.

Two weeks after he left technology startup Community Analytics as CEO, Newt Fowler has a new job.

The former chairman of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council joined the law firm of Rosenberg Martin Funk Greenberg on June 15 to head its business and technology practices.

Fowler worked at Venable LLP for 19 years and headed its technology practice before becoming a businessman. In 2004 he joined Community Analytics, a tech company at Tide Point that maps the networks that professionals tap into before making decisions.

Fowler didn't last long in the top job. He left after a disagreement with founder John Hawks about Community's future direction.

"We were not seeing eye-to-eye as how to execute in the marketplace," said Fowler, 46. "I felt it was time I needed to get out of way."

Bill Badger wants to make Anne Arundel County the "informatics" capital of the world.

His only problem: Even he has trouble defining the word.

"That is the difficult part of this. It's hard to explain to people," said Badger, 49, president of Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. "How do you boil it down to a sixth-grade reading level?"

What is informatics?

It's the process of taking reams of data and finding connections and patterns that can be used in everything from finding a cure for cancer to thwarting a terrorist attack.

Badger says Anne Arundel County is already the world's informatics leader because of work being done at the National Security Agency and a cluster of other companies here.

"It's huge," he said.

The trick for Badger is making informatics something that people can grasp without their eyes glazing over.

He's working with Bob Root, a Silicon Valley transplant and CEO of Steelfish Inc., a high-technology marketing agency in Annapolis, to come up with a name to identify Anne Arundel as the informatics capital of the world.

One plan is to hold a mini-World's Fair of informatics by fall with expert speakers, a trade show and educational contests for students.

"This is all on-the-drawing board kind of stuff," Root said. "It is going to be much more than a name."

Bill Atkinson's column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 410-332-6961 or by e-mail at bill.atkinson@balt sun.com.

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