Baltimore's global position

The region is well-positioned to capitalize on economic trends, if leaders take notice

November 04, 2013|By Mickey Matthews

As reports of an improving economy continue to trickle in, many businesses in the Baltimore area are realizing that global forces could very well positively impact our area and that now is the time to respond to these emerging trends.

This area is in a unique position, with a relatively strong economy, a port with growing capacity, a base of businesses for the 21st century, and access to top talent. This infrastructure bodes well for the Baltimore/Washington area, but only if businesses recognize that we are part of a global economy.

These opinions are supported by a recent survey conducted by Stanton Chase International, a global retained executive search firm. The global survey canvassed more than 500 high-level industrial sector executives on a wide range of topics.

The several of the trends identified by the survey directly affect Baltimore, including:

•A shift away from growth by acquisition and toward organic growth driven by investments in core business, new products and new markets.

•High priority investments in technology which appear to be driven by goals in core competency development, customer experience and quality/efficiency.

•The beginnings of a movement toward re-shoring — returning some manufacturing back to home country locations.

It is clear from the survey that there is global resurgence in the domestic industrial sector with businesses such as manufacturing, customer service and technology development returning to the United States. From a local perspective, we could very well see a cascading effect, specifically along the I-270 corridor with significant growth opportunities for medical device firms and telecom companies gaining a stronger foothold here.

There's no question that manufacturing is gradually returning to the United States as companies realize that they can be more responsive to their customers and more efficiently monitor quality and inventory rather than relying on plants in other countries. They are also seeing that the financial savings are out-weighed by other domestic efficiencies. The survey supports the concept of "re-shoring," and we're already seeing signs of this phenomenon throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area.

One of the very significant findings is that companies are now focusing on "organic" growth, rather than growth through acquisition. This is very encouraging since acquisitions usually result in employment reductions. At Stanton Chase, we're seeing client companies recognizing this and focusing on growth from within and through the acquisition of top executive talent. Maryland is known as an area of talent development, given our top-flight universities, and companies must continue to grow organically by keeping talent here. We must take an active role in competing for talent, and the best way to do this is to showcase all that the area has to offer — professionally, socially and educationally.

While there are positive signs, another area in which Maryland is well positioned to help is the "leadership gap" in developing business savvy engineers and visionary and strategic executives. The survey reflected this shortcoming on a global basis. Maryland companies, chambers and economic development organizations must recognize this dynamic and gear up to compete with other regions for talent. That starts with the roles our universities play in this arena.

Our universities — University of Maryland, College Park; University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Johns Hopkins University among them — should consider rounding out their curricula, possibly with enhanced finance, sales and marketing and technical coursework. The other leadership gap noted was in visionary and strategic leaders with strong ethics and values. This plays to the strengths of the Loyola University Master of Business Administration program. The survey also points to the need for improved STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — education programs.

The port is perhaps Baltimore's key asset, and the survey results pointing to more local manufacturing bode well for increased traffic. With a renewed focus on "re-shoring," it's likely the port will see an increase in domestic shipping. This will be reflected in the movement of goods up and down the coast and to the Midwest due to our port's competitively advantaged position as the most inland location on the eastern seaboard.

Another favorable trend for the port is that as the European Union continues to struggle, there will be more efforts by European countries to sell products to the U.S. This will result in more traffic coming into the port from "across the pond."

While the results from this survey are global in nature, there's no question Maryland's position globally and domestically reflects the trends. Now it's up to our business and educational leaders to respond and compete aggressively for our position as an economic force.

Mickey Matthews is the managing director of Stanton Chase International Executive Search in Baltimore and a firm vice president. Email him at

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