Archives For August 2012

By Eric Schurr, Director of Communications, Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute

Greenspacers Inc. founder and CEO Noah Berk wants to clean the dirty air we never think about: the air indoors.

To do so, he left a job with a six-figure salary in 2009 to start his second company and simultaneously launch a quiet revolution — growing clean air.

“More than 70 percent of our homes do not have safe indoor air quality,” says Berk. “Indoor air sometimes gets ten times worse than outside.”

Americans, on average, spend 90 percent or more of their time indoors, according to a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report. Indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times higher, and occasionally more than 100 times higher than outdoor levels, according to the same report.

The best long-term filters, Berk concluded, were provided by nature. But plants have problems. They require work. They are dirty. They accumulate fungus and mold and attract bugs. Plus, some plants are better at cleaning air than others.

Berk’s answer was simple: reinvent the American houseplant.

Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a new series highlighting Maryland Industrial Partnerships projects celebrating the program’s 25th anniversary.

His first step was to eliminate dirt, where fungus and mold can grow, and replace it with clay nuggets not prone to fungus and mold growth. That way he could offer clean plants that filter the air.

Next, he had to prove they were clean. In August, 2011, the company received a $134,700 grant from the Maryland Industrial Partnerships (MIPS) program to work with Thomas Handwerker, a professor at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, to show that Greenspacers’ plants removed volatile organic compounds and were free of bioaerosols, molds, mildews, or other allergens.

“Our main focus was looking at expanding the market for hydroculture plants into more stringent settings, like hospitals and nursing homes,” said Handwerker. “Those types of facilities typically do not allow potted plants because of the potential of fungal spores being released from the soil.”

While the project is nearing its end, thus far it has been successful.

“We demonstrated that the plants are growing clean,” said Handwerker.

One local hospital was convinced, buying $8,400 worth of plants from Greenspacers and installing them on-site for the first time.

Next, Berk methodically cataloged the best air-cleaning plants that are hard to kill, and added an easy way to care for them. Every Greenspacers plant comes equipped with a water level indicator gauge, making it virtually impossible to over- or under-water it.

The company’s carefully selected plants need to be watered just every seven days to four weeks or more, depending upon the variety. They rarely need to be repotted.

In all, Greenspacers compiled 17 table-top and 22 floor plants of varying sizes and species, for both residential and commercial use, with 40 container combinations for each, making a total of nearly 700 unique styles.

They also added services such as design planning, plant leasing and maintenance, starting in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia.

Berk launched Greenspacers with $40,000 of his own money and $60,000 from friends and family. Besides the MIPS grant, the company has thrived on sales.

A serial entrepreneur from a family with the same inclination, Berk started a staffing firm while in college. He made $100,000 when he was 21 and was self-sufficient by the time he was a junior at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Berk’s father ran a landscape design firm outside of his regular, full-time job. He kept a nursery in the family’s back yard.

“Even as a toddler I would accompany dad to job sites,” said Berk. “He worked 25-7.”

As he got older, Berk’s job was to tend the nursery.

Soon after college, he became a salesman for Internet marketing company ReachLocal. But he wanted to do something he was passionate about.

“Our indoor air quality just keeps getting worse,” said Berk. “People are getting more and more sick and keep wondering why. Plants are an elegant and natural way to clean the air.”

Berk realized his vision for the new American houseplant: high-performing, long-term air cleaners with no dirt, no disease, no repotting and less watering.

About Greenspacers Inc. (

A leading green technology company headquartered in Columbia, Md., GreenSpacers offers expert advice, design planning, plant leasing and sales, and professional care and maintenance for hydroculture greenery. The company was one of 15 recipients of a technology product development grant from the University of Maryland Mtech Maryland Industrial Partnership Program, named one of Baltimore’s 15 Hottest Technology Companies in 2010 by GBTC and one of the Top Green Entrepreneurs of the Year in 2011 by the Baltimore Business Journal.

About the Maryland Industrial Partnerships (MIPS) Program (

MIPS, an initiative of the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech), supports university-based research projects to help Maryland companies develop technology-based products. Commercial products benefiting from MIPS projects have generated more than $23.6 billion in revenue, added thousands of jobs to the region, and contributed to successful products such as Martek Biosciences’ nutritional oils, Hughes Communications’ HughesNet™, MedImmune’s Synagis®, and Black & Decker’s Bullet® Speed Tip Masonry Drill Bit.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Smiths Detection Inc. will move its U.S. headquarters to Maryland from New Jersey, the company and state announced Tuesday morning.

Based in England, Smiths Detection builds scanners and other products that detect and identify explosives, chemical and biological agents, radiological and nuclear threats, narcotics, weapons and contraband.

The company’s headquarters operations will move into a recently expanded facility in Edgewood, adding 100 jobs over the next two years to the 225 there already.

“Smiths Detection will continue to make the investments necessary to be the leading provider of advanced security solutions for both domestic and international markets,” said Lance Roncalli, U.S. managing director. “Growing our Maryland footprint gives us the opportunity to work more closely with core customers in and around Washington, D.C., whose mission is homeland security and to aid in safeguarding citizens, military trips, airports, ports, borders around the world.”

Smiths Detection added 100,000 square feet to the Edgewood operation recently to accommodate manufacturing lines that build the company’s X-ray, baggage screening and security scanning systems for customers in the Americas, including X-ray scanners in use at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. The company also makes Joint Chemical Agent Detectors, which are used by U.S. soldiers, at the Edgewood plant.

The expansion represents an investment of more than $8.5 million, according to the company.

The state will provide a $750,000 loan through the Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority and Fund to support the expansion and Harford County’s Office of Economic Development will extend a training grant of up to $100,000.

“Smiths Detection has developed innovative products to address the most significant challenges we have faced as a nation since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and to provide the best and most immediate care to wounded warriors on the battlefield,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley. “Working with Smith’s Detection to expand its operations here in Maryland, we are not only enhancing the state’s ability to protect both our nation and our people, but also positioning Maryland as the leader in homeland security, creating jobs and growing our innovation economy.”

There’s a lot of buzz these days about doing business in Maryland. Here are the facts that inspire businesses to call Maryland the “Land of Opportunity.”

The Facts:

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Maryland is home to 20 of the fastest-growing private companies in the country, according the annual Inc. 500 list.

That means Maryland, home to just 1.8 percent of the country’s population and responsible for 1.9 percent of the nation’s GDP, can claim 4 percent of the Inc. 500 companies this year.

That strong showing buttresses The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s decision this summer to rank Maryland the best state in the country for innovation and entrepreneurship on the strength of the state’s workforce, education system, research and development assets and assistance programs that target high-tech innovators and startups.

The state also has 161 of the 5,000 fastest growers, according to the magazine for entrepreneurs and business owners.

Astrum Solar led the Maryland contingent and took the second spot on the nationwide list, with drool-worthy 23,577 percent growth over the last three years. The Annapolis Junction company operates in six states, designing, installing and monitoring solar power systems.

Founded in 2007, Astrum has 170 employees, according to Inc. Revenue has grown from $113,600 in 2008 to $26.9 million last year.

(Astrum narrowly missed taking the top spot on the Inc. 500 list. Unified Payments, a financial services firm in North Miami Beach, Fla., had 23,646 percent revenue growth over the last three years.)

The other 19 Maryland companies on the list are:

  • No. 91, M-Edge Accessories, an Odenton company that sells cases for handheld electronic devices, 3,185% growth, 56 employees
  • No. 112, PCI Strategic Management, a Columbia management consulting firm, 2,713% growth, 118 employees
  • No. 174, Blue Corona, a digital advertising and marketing firm in Gaithersburg, 1,990% growth, 20 employees
  • No. 203, AM Pierce & Associates, a government contractor in Lexington Park, 1,791% growth, 38 employees
  • No. 232, Millennial Media, an advertising and marketing firm in Baltimore, 1,551% growth, 222 employees
  • No. 241, E-SAC, a bioinformatics and health care IT company in Rockville, 1,498% growth, 20 employees
  • No. 252, MBL Technologies, a consulting and IT firm in Rockville, 1,418% growth, 28 employees
  • No. 253, TISTA Science and Technology, a Rockville IT an cyber security company, 1,410%, 110 employees
  • No. 265, RainKing Solutions, a marketing and sales consultancy in Bethesda, 1,359% growth, 92 employees
  • No. 269, Special Operations Solutions, a Hyattsville firm that provides high-tech personnel to the Department of Defense, 1,324% growth, 27 employees
  • No. 292,, an online marketplace for domain names based in Potomac, 1,266% growth, 9 employees
  • No. 300, LINQ Services, an Elkridge firm that represents businesses to cell phone companies, 1,240% growth, 19 employees
  • No. 309, WeddingWire, a Bethesda company that helps wedding planners reach customers, 1,200%, 100 employees
  • No. 320, Daytner Construction, a Mount Airy construction company, 1,173% growth, 10 employees
  • No. 387, Digital Management, a Bethesda IT services firm, 972% growth, 518 employees
  • No. 392, ClearOne Advantage, a Baltimore that negotiates settlements of consumer debts, 959% growth, 54 employees
  • No. 439, Standard Solar, a Rockville solar power system developer, 850% growth, 80 employees
  • No. 451, Sonatype, a Silver Spring company that facilitates collaborative software development, 839% growth, 40 employees
  • No. 489, LongView International Technology Solutions, a specialized IT firm in North Bethesda, 780% growth, 412 employees

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Maryland has opened a foreign trade office in Nigeria, the Department of Business and Economic Development announced Wednesday morning.

The office is the state’s first in Africa. DBED runs a dozen other foreign trade offices around the globe.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is the second fastest growing region in the world and it is a market that we want to explore,” said DBED Secretary Christian Johansson. “With this new office, we will not only be able to promote our state as a gateway to the U.S. market and attract African companies to Maryland, but also provide expert guidance to our businesses that want to access the African market.”

The regional office covers Nigeria, Ghana, Niger, Djibouti, Tanzania, Mozambique, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali.

According to the African Development Bank, the continent’s middle class has tripled over the last 30 years to 310 million people, nearly a third of Africa’s population.

Grid2Grid, of Washington D.C., runs the office for DBED on a contingency basis. The company will be paid only if it is able to woo companies and jobs to Maryland.

“As an American company that specializes in emergent markets with a focus on Africa, we have been helping companies develop trade and investment projects on the continent for many years,” said Asoka Ranaweera, Grid2Grid’s managing partner. “We are pleased to have been chosen to represent the State of Maryland and look forward to helping Maryland companies do business in Africa.”

In the last year, Maryland has attracted 15 foreign-owned companies that could create nearly 300 new jobs. In that time, Gov. Martin O’Malley led two trade missions that took delegations of business leaders, government officials and academics to China, South Korea, Vietnam and India. Those missions helped land $145 million in trade and investment deals as well as spark relationships that will continue to bear fruit for Maryland companies.

DBED has trade offices in China, France, Colombia, South Korea, India, Taiwan, Vietnam, Russia, Israel, Montenegro and other countries.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Money Magazine named four Maryland towns to its annual “Best Places to Live” list released this week.

All four — Columbia/Ellicott City, Waldorf, Gaithersburg and Germantown — made the top 25 of the list of 100 small cities. (Only Minnesota, with five of the top 25, edged the Old Line State in top finishers.)

Said Money about the burgs that made the cut: “These terrific small cities offer what American families care about most — strong job opportunities, great schools, low crime, quality health care, and plenty to do. And they’re true communities too.”

Columbia and Ellicott City took the No. 8 spot. Money rewarded the Howard County couple for its duality — “a charming, historic downtown with plenty of restaurants (Ellicott City) and a thoughtfully laid-out planned community with tons of big-box stores and a giant arena (Columbia).”

The magazine also highlighted the area’s “reasonable housing costs, terrific schools, miles of hiking trails” and diversity.

Waldorf was 20th on the list thanks to its safe streets and inexpensive housing costs.

“Ranking among the very best places to live in the country is an honorable distinction,” Reuben B. Collins II, Charles County commissioner vice president, said in a written statement. “It’s a true testimony to the community’s efforts, and a remarkable achievement of which we are very proud.”

A pair of Montgomery County towns rounded out the Maryland cities on the list.

Great schools, diverse population and big-time employers like the National Institute of Standards and Technology, MedImmune and IBM landed Gaithersburg the No. 23 spot. The “quaint city” is “widely considered one of the best places to start a business,” according to Money.

Germantown finished one spot lower, at No. 24.

“Germantown’s just 32 miles from D.C., making it an ideal spot for families looking to escape Washington’s hectic pace and traffic. But the area’s got plenty of job action — the unemployment rate is just 5 percent,” Money wrote.

Money also released its list of top-earning towns this week. Bethesda took the top spot on that last, ahead of Greenwich, Conn., Palo Alto, Ca. and 23 other well-heeled cities around the country.

Said Money: “Bethesda is a hotspot for the highly educated, with nearly half of its residents boasting a graduate or professional degree. That may explain the incomes — the highest on our list this year. They enable people to afford the luxe homes here, which are more than twice as pricey as the state average.”

Ellicott City took the 12th spot on the list of top-earning towns.

By Jim Palma, Senior Manager, Research and Information, Department of Business and Economic Development

The Baltimore region is more affordable than many similar regions across the United States, according to data recently released by the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER, formerly known as ACCRA). While the region is more expensive than some other parts of the nation, it boasts a lower average cost of living than urban areas in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Baltimore is also less expensive than most metro areas in California, according to C2ER, which incorporates the cost of housing, utilities, clothing, food, transportation and other factors into its index. And while the Bethesda region is more expensive than Baltimore, it is also competitive cost-wise with other top regions in the nation and with neighboring Washington, D.C.

Cost of Living Index – 2011

Metro Area


Baltimore, MD


Hartford, CT


Philadelphia, PA


Middlesex-Monmouth, NJ


Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick, MD


San Diego, CA


Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA


Boston, MA


Nassau County (Long Island), NY


Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA


San Jose, CA


San Francisco, CA


New York (Manhattan), NY


Note: Includes comparative data for approximately 335 areas; average for all areas = 100.

Source: ACCRA Cost of Living Index, 2011 annual average.

While the cost of living in urban areas of Maryland is measured by C2ER, rural areas are left out. To measure the cost of living in these areas, DBED has created a county-level cost of living index for the State. We chose a standard set of goods and services based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, including housing, utilities, transportation, food and clothing, to calculate consumer expenditures for Maryland jurisdictions.

In 2010, nearly three-quarters of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions (71%) had a cost of living index above the national average. Montgomery County’s index was the highest, at 127.3, while Allegany County had the lowest cost of living, at 86.7.

Living costs on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland are generally near the national average, while counties in the D.C. suburbs post high cost of living rankings. This is not surprising as living costs are generally higher in large metro areas.

Most of the variation in the cost of living for Maryland counties stems from differences in the housing index. Housing prices in Howard and Montgomery counties are almost double the national average, while Anne Arundel, Calvert and Queen Anne’s counties are not far behind. Not surprisingly, counties with high housing expenditures also rank high in cost of living. In general, communities throughout Maryland offer a broad range of amenities and lifestyles that are both attractive and affordable.

Cost of living by county – 2010

Region Cost of living Housing
U.S. 100 100
Allegany 86.7 57.6
Anne Arundel 117.7 165.5
Baltimore City 99 75.5
Baltimore 110.9 124.6
Calvert 112.4 157.3
Caroline 104.2 95.4
Carroll 107.9 139.8
Cecil 103 119.8
Charles 110.3 147.6
Dorchester 97.2 81.6
Frederick 109.5 134
Garrett 99.8 119.2
Harford 108.8 131.4
Howard 124.1 193.2
Kent 100.3 105.9
Montgomery 127.3 191.4
Prince George’s 110 115.8
Queen Anne’s 106.8 150
St. Mary’s 96.6 82.1
Somerset 101.9 134.3
Talbot 111.4 152.9
Washington 97.1 87.8
Wicomico 98.9 95.4
Worcester 106.1 132.7
Note that these county-level cost of living numbers are not necessarily comparable to the nationwide numbers above, as they were created using a different, simpler methodology.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Samuel Demisse left Ethiopia for the United States in 2004. It was supposed to be a long vacation, but a business plan derailed his travel plans and Demisse decided to stay.

Back home, Demisse’s family has decades of experience growing, harvesting and exporting coffee. Here, he found the other side of that equation — an import market full of thirsty, would-be customers willing to shell out a little more for a cup of something a little different.

Eight years after that vacation, Demisse’s company, Keffa Coffee, imports coffee from his home country, ships it across the United States and Canada, and even sends some along to Taiwan.

Demisse said his business weathered the recession well, doubled last year and is growing this year, too.

“People drink coffee whether they’re happy or not,” he said during a recent interview.

Keffa Coffee takes its name from the region in Ethiopia from which the word “coffee” was derived and, as the legend goes, where a goat herder discovered the energizing effect of coffee more than a millennium ago.

Demisse buys coffee beans from friends, family and other farmers in the region. Shipments go through Djibouti on the Horn of Africa to the Port of Baltimore. Demisse said chose to locate here — Keffa is now headquartered in the TowsonGlobal Business Incubator — to be close to the port, warehouse space and a transportation network that allows for convenient shipments up and down the East Coast and into the Midwest.

Access to transportation networks is of great concern for a business like Keffa. The company imports a 20-foot shipping container full of coffee about once a month. That’s 300 bags of coffee weighing in at 132 lbs. each, or 20 tons of coffee 12 times a year.

Those shipments get parceled out and distributed to wholesalers across the country that roast the beans and sell them to restaurants, grocery stores and coffee shops.

Ethiopian coffee “is very unique,” said Demisse. “Each coffee tastes different. We have coffees that taste exactly like blueberry. We have coffees that taste lemony, a lot of floral notes.”

Demisse said he plans to expand his business to import from other East African nations such as Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania. He traveled to Colombia last year and said that country, too, holds promise.

Connections to coffee-growing kith and kin serve Demisse well, but he also has his award-winning palate to thank.

Last year, Demisse placed second in the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s U.S. Cup Tasters Championship. Eighteen competitors were given eight sets of three cups of coffee. In each set, two cups were of the same brew while the third was subtly different. The tasters had to identify the unique cup in each set. Demisse said he identified all eight correctly, but finished 15 seconds behind the winner.

Keffa doesn’t import and sell beans until Demisse roasts, grinds, brews and tastes them. Beans grown nearby in the same region can have slight differences in taste, differences that Demisse can identify and evaluate as he searches for new coffees to introduce to the U.S. market.

“The coffee market in the U.S. is huge,” he said. “People, they love specialty coffee and Ethiopia is producing some of the best coffee.”

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Maryland’s private sector added 2,400 jobs in July, according to figures released Friday morning by the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Labor officials also revised downward large June job losses to 8,100, about 25 percent less than initially reported.

Overall, however, July’s private sector gains were offset by losses in the public sector — mostly in local governments — leaving the state with 800 more jobs in July than there were in June. The state’s unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 7 percent. (The national rate also rose last month to 8.3 percent from 8.2 percent in June.)

Despite the lackluster start to the year for the state’s labor market, the outlook is better than it was just one year ago.

There are 22,600 more jobs in Maryland than there were in July 2011, and all but 900 of those new positions have been added in the private sector. Last year at this time, the unemployment rate was 7.2 percent.

“In this fragile jobs recovery, every job counts,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley. “As moms and dads continue to fight to put food on the table, together, we must do everything in our power to create jobs and expand opportunity for a better, stronger future.”

Job gains in July came from some of Maryland’s strongest sectors. Professional and business services added 2,900, with computer systems design and research and development companies and employment agencies doing much of the heavy lifting.

Leisure and hospitality added another 2,400 jobs, with the entire increase coming from hotels, restaurants and other food services outlets.

And education and health care boosted employment by 1,500.

Over the year, professional and business services employment is up 14,400 and education and health care is up 10,900.

“Progress is a choice,” O’Malley said. “Job creation is a choice. And together, Marylanders continue to make the choices to move forward—by educating, innovating and rebuilding our economy—because the most important job we create is the next one.”

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Maryland Industrial Partnerships, a technology commercialization arm of the University of Maryland, announced $4 million for 19 new projects in the program’s 50th round of funding on Thursday.

The projects run the gamut from water-repellant wind turbine coatings to compact battery chargers for electric vehicles to algorithms intended for use by ride-sharing services.

“Small companies and startups in this round are hustling to create a thriving future economy in Maryland,” said Martha Connolly, director of MIPS.

“From Hooper’s Island to Baltimore, from Leonardtown to Bethesda, companies and faculty are creating the next generation of technologies that will improve our lives, enhance our environment and add jobs in Maryland,” she said. “Some of the biggest and most promising companies in Maryland, from Lockheed Martin to Northrop Grumman, from Martek Biosciences to MedImmune, from CSA Medical to WellDoc, have each taken advantage of MIPS projects to advance technologies.”

The program pairs companies with universities and faculty around the state to speed the commercialization of promising technologies. Funding comes from corporate partners and the MIPS program — companies provided $2.5 million this round and MIPS, $1.5 million. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agency also provided program.

MIPS has supported projects at more than 500 Maryland companies since the program’s inception in 1987, helping to develop Martek’s nutritional oils, WellDoc’s mobile diabetes management platform and Black and Decker’s Bullet Speed Tip drill bit, among others.

“MIPS companies have created nearly 3,000 high-quality, high-paying jobs in the state and we expect that pace to increase as current startups blaze the trail to a bright, innovation-driven economic future for Maryland,” Connolly said.

The MIPS recipients in the latest round are:

  • 20/20 GeneSystems Inc. (Rockville) and Feng Jiang, associate professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore ($79,124): MicroRNA as a blood analyte for lung cancer
  • AHPharma Food Safety Products Inc. (Salisbury) and Jeannine Harter-Dennis, associate professor, University of Maryland Eastern Shore ($279,866): Radiant and manure burning heat system NH3 control
  • Allegiance NanoSolutions (Baltimore) and Jewel Barlow, director, Glenn L. Martin Wind Tunnel ($127,500): Nanotechsuperhydrophobic coating for wind turbines
  • Biomedica Management Corp. (Baltimore) and Leonid Medved, professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore ($325,698): Optimization of novel hemostatic agent ClotBlock
  • Blue Infusion Technologies LLC (Columbia) and Marc Cohen, research scientist, University of Maryland, College Park ($148,500): BEARTek glove bluetooth module
  • CoolCAD Electronics LLC (College Park) and Alireza Khaligh, assistant professor, University of Maryland, College Park ($154,807): SiC-based, ultra-compact EV battery charger
  • Global Resource Recyclers Inc. (Forestville) and Qingbin Cui, assistant professor, University of Maryland College Park (112,983): Carbon emission reductions from FSB
  • Hooper Island Oyster Aquaculture Co. (Fishing Creek) and David Tilley, associate professor, University of Maryland, College Park ($143,000): Salting system for oyster aquaculture
  • Information Technologies Curves (Gaithersburg) and Elise Miller-Hooks, associate professor, University of Maryland, College Park ($177,500): Next generation algorithms for ride-sharing services
  • Innovative Bios (Baltimore) and Ryan Casey, associate professor, Towson University ($134,522): Renewable cell culture broth
  • InstantLabs Medical Diagnostics Corp. (Baltimore) and Jennifer Johnson, assistant professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore ($225,000): Development of PCR assay for the detection of MRSA
  • Leadership Health LLC (Leonardtown) and Jae Kun Shim, associate professor, University of Maryland College Park ($890,000): Enabling the expansion of physical therapy clinics
  • Otomagnetics (Bethesda) and Benjamin Shapiro, associate professor, University of Maryland College Park ($189,075): Magnetic therapy injection to treat hearing loss
  • Plasmonix, Inc. (Halethorpe) and Joseph Lakowicz, professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore ($159,749): Translational development of plasmonic substrates
  • Shore Thing Shellfish LLC (Valley Lee) and J. H. Hixson, hatchery program manager, Morgan State University ($113,597): ‘In-Situ’ oyster setting
  • Smart Slope LLC (Brooklyn) and Andrew Ristvey, regional extension specialist, University of Maryland, College Park ($200,100): Alternative substrate blends for greenroof media
  • Syntonics LLC (Columbia) and Don DeVoe, professor, University of Maryland, College Park ($140,059): MEMS components for PARCA software-defined antenna
  • VisiSonics Corp. (College Park) and Nail Gumerov, senior research scientist, University of Maryland, College Park ($235,200): Enhanced 3D audio experience via personalization
  • Zuvachem Inc. (Lutherville) and Frank Robb, professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore ($122,124): Enhanced microbial production of isoprene

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Ringed by a panel of Maryland business leaders, Michael MacDonald laid out an ambitious plan for Medifast Inc.

“Our goal as a company over the next five years is to grow to a billion dollars,” the chairman and CEO of the weight-loss company said Thursday. “Our goal is to be a Baltimore-based company that gets to a billion dollars over a five-year time horizon and we’re making the investments to build that type of infrastructure within the company.”

Companies like Medifast, of Owings Mills, will play a key role as Maryland and the country grow out of the recession and recover the millions of jobs claimed by the downturn.

“Medifast, a fast-growing firm, we’re very proud of them,” said Dan Gundersen, Baltimore County’s director of economic development.

“There are other fast-growing firms in this county and every county in the state,” he said, addressing the Maryland Economic Development Commission at Medifast’s headquarters. “Some of the recent estimates are these fast-growing firms, the fastest of the fast … represent some 85 to 90 percent of all new jobs in any economy, and yet they represent less than 1 percent of the entire employment base.”

Christian Johansson, Maryland’s secretary of business and economic development, said manufacturing is “an area that has been a strength for Maryland, but it’s also, because of a larger global shift, an area that might be coming back in a much bigger way.”

As China’s currency appreciates, wages there rise, the cost of oil goes up and European crises persist, manufacturers may look more favorably on the United States.

“That all drives manufacturing potential for Maryland over the next few years,” Johansson said.

Medifast employs about 1000 people nationwide, including 600 in Maryland. It produces all its products in the United States. About half of its output comes from Maryland.

MacDonald said the company has partnered with Productos Medix S.A. de C.V. to distribute Medifast products in Mexico in its first major international push.

“The international opportunity for us is going to be tremendous over the next five years,” he said. “Mexico is the first place we’re going and then we’ll look at Canada and we’ll look at other parts of the world to move to as we build our manufacturing and distribution capacity.”

Medifast will keep its manufacturing operations here, MacDonald said, both to maintain tight control over its production lines and because the search for overseas sites for manufacturing facilities is fraught with uncertainty.

“I think what people need to stick to is, even if you pay a little bit more money to stay in a given area, stick to your strategy,” he said. “Don’t act on impulses, thinking that’s the cure-all to move to that cheap area.”

Maryland has renewed its efforts to nurture the state’s storied manufacturing sector. Gov. Martin O’Malley revived the Maryland Advisory Commission on Manufacturing Competitiveness in July.

“The recovery in the U.S. economy is still fragile,” said Jeff Fuchs, chairman of the commission. “But one of the pillars of that recovery has really been manufacturing and manufacturing is poised for a resurgence in this country.”

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

A Maryland director will shoot an independent film called “Ping Pong Summer” in Ocean City for six weeks starting in September, Gov. Martin O’Malley announced Monday.

The cast of the coming-of-age comedy includes Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon (“Thelma and Louise,” “Bull Durham”), Amy Sedaris (“Strangers with Candy,” “The Good Wife”) and John Hannah (“The Mummy,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral”).

“We look forward to welcoming Marylander Michael Tully and the ‘Ping Pong Summer’ production team,” O’Malley said. “Working together with our partners from Worcester County and Ocean City, we were able to secure this film that will strengthen our State’s economy, create jobs and highlight one of Maryland’s most family-friendly vacation destinations.”

The Maryland Film Office estimates the production could provide work for 90 local actors, extras and crew and inject $2 million in spending into the state’s economy.

“For 20 years I have fantasized about making “Ping Pong Summer” in Ocean City,” said writer and director Michael Tully, a Maryland native. “Now, thanks to the efforts of the State of Maryland, Worcester County, Ocean City and many enthusiastic people in Maryland, the time has come.  I am grateful and excited to be able to recreate the summer vacation of my dreams on film in Ocean City.”

The film is set in 1980s Ocean City and is based on Tully’s annual trips to the beach.

“A huge goal with this film was always to give it an authentic sense of place, specifically Ocean City,” said producer George Rush.

“Ping Pong Summer” will join a host of other movies and television shows that have set up shop in Maryland in recent years. Maryland’s new Film Production Employment Act of 2011, which offers $7.5 million in income tax credits for certain film production expenses, has helped maintain the string of high-profile productions in the state.

HBO shot “Game Change,” a look at campaign of GOP presidential nominee John McCain’s campaign in the waning days of the 2008 election, in Maryland. The cable giant returned to shoot VEEP, a comedy starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as gaffe-prone Vice President Selina Meyer.

“Better Living Through Chemistry” began shooting in May and Netflix has also set cameras rolling in Maryland, shooting its adaptation of “House of Cards,” a political thriller starring Kevin Spacey, in and around Baltimore.