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A panel of experts discuss creating a sense of place  to promote growth in communities.

A panel of experts discuss creating a sense of place to promote growth in communities.

The longtime mantra of realtors, “location, location, location,” applies just as much to a community’s overall economic development, experts agreed during the Maryland Economic Development Association’s fall conference.

The conference, held Tuesday in Frederick and sponsored by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, made the case for “place making” as a tool for improving the social perceptions of a region’s assets.

So, how does that elusive sense of place impact economic development? Here are 10 takeaways from the conference’s expert lineup.

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Robert Walker is Deputy Secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.

Supporting Maryland manufacturing is a top priority here at the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, and a recent event organized by Walmart shed some light on revitalizing industry in our state and across the nation.

Walmart has a goal of creating $50 billion in new manufacturing in the United States over the next decade, much of it by encouraging its suppliers to bring outsourced manufacturing back home. This plan was detailed in a summit attended by more than 1,500 participants, including the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, the Honorable Penny Pritzker, and eight governors, as well as the CEOs of General Electric, Walmart, Sam’s Club and other corporate leaders.

The Good News: U.S. exports in the first six months of this year were $1.2 trillion, the total of all U.S. exports in 2003. Increased exports means increased manufacturing jobs as well. The output of U.S. workers is up 9 percent on average since the 2008 recession due to improved productivity, continuing innovation, research and development and the important economic development activities of U.S. universities.  Manufacturing processes are being done with less labor, cheaper natural gas and at a lower cost of credit (thanks to the Federal Reserve).  And three jobs are created for every one manufacturing job.

One speaker said we hear a lot about China’s robust economic growth and how it will “sink” the U.S. economy. The same thing was said of Japan in the 1970s. Today, the U.S. has 2.5 times more manufacturing value-added than five years ago. Chinese labor costs continue to rise, although still well behind average U.S. wages. However, the cost of transporting products continues to rise. In addition, import duties and delays in backfilling orders makes U.S. manufacturing increasingly more competitive with the fully-loaded cost of Chinese imports. In the case of flooring material, the U.S. now has a $.03 advantage over China and the product can be delivered to buyers within a matter of one to three days.

Some of the governors said they have eliminated state taxes on utilities, cut corporate taxes by 20-plus percent, provided tax incentives, improved infrastructure and implemented programs to provide the workforce needed to meet the demands of tomorrow’s job market. In fact, all of the governors who spoke said that the quality and availability of the workforce were the most important factors for companies looking to expand or relocate to their states. One governor spoke of a high school program in his state that allows qualified students to also complete a two-year associate degree at the same time that includes a mandatory internship in the skill area chosen by the student. Another state provides a certificate of “readiness” that confirms for an employer what it is that the prospective employee can do as a result of education and on-the-job training, certified by a professional trained in that skill area.

The CEO of General Electric commented that the U.S. can compete with any country anywhere in the world, and that manufacturing is getting better. The speakers concluded that we are at a tipping point and we should challenge our old assumptions about the capability and capacity of U.S. manufacturing. U.S. manufacturing can and will rebound and grow in light of U.S. leadership in research and development, innovation, productivity improvements and changes in China and elsewhere that will work to our advantage.

The good news that Maryland added 1,800 manufacturing jobs in July, the most of any job sector in the state, underscores the vitality of, and opportunity for, manufacturing in Maryland.


InvestMaryland is the largest venture capital fund in Maryland history.

The Maryland Venture Fund is adding a new team member to assist in sourcing and evaluating equity investments in Maryland life sciences companies. Alastair Mackay, a cell biologist by training, has been named the Senior Life Sciences Principal, the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development announced Thursday.

“Working at Johns Hopkins and then at Osiris Therapeutics, I learned first-hand of the tremendous practical impacts of scientific discoveries,” Mackay said in a statement. “I hope to spot early stage Maryland companies that combine promising technology with clear, achievable plans for bringing their innovations to market.”

Within the InvestMaryland program, Mackay will focus on channeling funding toward the state’s most innovative and promising life sciences companies. His extensive industry experience stretches from the lab to the board room.

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Thomas E. Perez

Thomas E. Perez is a likely nominee for the U.S. labor secretary, media reports.

Thomas E. Perez, a prominent Maryland attorney and politician, has been nominated for the post of U.S. Secretary of Labor, President Barack Obama announced Monday.

Since 2009, Perez has served as the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the U. S. Department of Justice. Between 2007 and his federal appointment, he served as the secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

According to the president’s statement in the East Room of the White House:

Like so many Americans, Tom knows what it’s like to climb the ladder of opportunity.  He is the son of Dominican immigrants.  He helped pay his way through college as a garbage collector and working at a warehouse.  He went on to become the first lawyer in his family.  So his story reminds us of this country’s promise, that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what your last name is — you can make it if you try.

And Tom has made protecting that promise — for everybody  — the cause of his life.  As a civil rights attorney, an aide to Senator Ted Kennedy, a member of the Montgomery, Maryland County Council, Tom fought for a level playing field where hard work and responsibility are rewarded and working families can get ahead.

And this is not the first time that he’s chosen to be a labor secretary, either.  We’ve got here today Governor Martin O’Malley, and Martin appointed Tom as Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, where he helped implement the country’s first statewide living-wage law, because he understood that a minimum wage should be a wage that you can live on.

Find the full statement, including Perez’s acceptance of the nomination, here.

i-lighting at InvestMaryland Challenge

The i-lighting team presented at the InvestMaryland Challenge.

Find additional photos by Digital Content Manager Dean Storm below the video and article.

In the competition’s final weeks, semifinalists in the InvestMaryland Challenge faced the judges during an intense day of interviews on Tuesday.

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Jen and Ben Hauser work feverishly to prepare for an anticipated Valentine's Day rush. Credit Nick DiMarco. Used with permission.

Jen and Ben Hauser work feverishly to prepare for an anticipated Valentine’s Day rush. Credit Nick DiMarco. Used with permission.

For a small business that specializes in hand-made chocolates, there’s no more important day than Valentine’s Day.

But for one such Maryland company, Glarus Choclatier, a series of events led to their need to move to and prep a totally new retail location in the days leading up to the chocolate holiday. Lutherville-Timonium Patch has the story of how they made the move — and their deadline — just in time for the big day.

“Insane,” is the word Jen used to describe the transition from Baltimore back to Timonium where they’ve opened a new shop at 2046 York Rd.

“It’s been about about six weeks of just non-stop seven-days-a-week, moving our entire operation from downtown to back here,” Ben said, taking a time out from mixing batches of chocolates.

But a promise is a promise to the Hausers. The couple, residents of northern Baltimore County, informed their loyal customers that they were trying frantically to open ahead of the busiest chocolate day of the year—Valentine’s Day.

The full story can be found on Lutherville- Timonium Patch.


TEDx Baltimore is less than a day away — tomorrow — and a few tickets are still available (with a $10 discount if you use the code COMMUNITY2013 at checkout).

One of the speakers we’ll be sure to catch is Shaquille Brooks. From the TEDx Baltimore speaker’s bios:

Shaquille Brooks is a Baltimore City student at Digital Harbor High School. He serves as the Secretary for the Student Government at Digital Harbor, as well as being a member of the Associated Student Congress of Baltimore City. He has also been an advisor for the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. Shaquille is actively involved with the Digital Harbor Foundation, where he continues to develop his technical skills.

If you’re thinking of going, time’s running out. TEDx Baltimore is tomorrow. (And, full disclosure, DBED is a sponsor)

TEDx Baltimore is this week — tomorrow — and a few tickets are still available (with a $10 discount if you use the code COMMUNITY2013 at checkout).

One of the speakers we can’t wait to hear is Lance Lucas, founder of Digit All Systems. From the TEDx Baltimore speaker’s bios:

Digit All Systems is committed to bridging the digital divide by equipping underserved and underprivileged students with IT career skills. All courses prepare students for professional certification tests and more advance courses. Incredible success rate in terms of both certification rates and employment outcomes, many of their students now teaching at City schools, replicating Digit All’s process.

If you’re thinking of going, better get to it. TEDx Baltimore is tomorrow. (And, full disclosure, DBED is a sponsor)

TEDx Baltimore is this week — on Friday — and a few tickets are still available (with a $10 discount if you use the code COMMUNITY2013 at checkout).

One of the speakers we’re really looking forward to hearing from is Noor Siddiqui, a young woman with Ivy League written all over her qualifications. And yet she decided to opt out of college and leap full-time into the world:

After graduating from high school, she set aside her university acceptance letters and opted for the Thiel Fellowship. The Thiel Fellowship grants 20 entrepreneurs under 20, $100,000 to move to Silicon Valley and pursue ‘game-changing’ entrepreneurial ventures. Noor is working on building a more inclusive world by harnessing untapped productive energy at the base of the pyramid.

Should be an inspiring talk.

Hurry. TEDx Baltimore is in just two days. (And, full disclosure, DBED is a sponsor)

Jeremy Johnson. Photo courtesy of 2U.

Jeremy Johnson. Photo courtesy of 2U.

Landover’s 2U, an innovative provider of online instruction for top-tier universities, has yet another reason to crow this month: Their cofounder Jeremy Johnson was just named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 – Education list.

The 30 Gen-Yers on our list are innovators, advocates, thought-leaders and reformers. Through outreach initiatives and engineering they’re committed, like my mom, to giving kids everywhere the best chance at success. They’re committed to making the lives of teachers like her just a little bit easier, whether through technology that saves them precious minutes communicating with parents or helps them use data analytics to track performance more efficiently than traditional paper grade books ever could.

Forbes calls Johnson “the standout in the category“:

2U, which until October had been called 2tor, is a pioneer in offering for-credit graduate level coursework, beginning with master’s degrees from the likes of the University of Southern California and Georgetown. The company, which Johnson cofounded with Princeton Review founder John Katzman and former Hooked on Phonics CEO Chip Paucek, has raised $96 million in venture capital and recently announced its first ever undergraduate courses offered by a consortium of top-tier universities including Duke, Northwestern and Vanderbilt. “Our goal is to find a way to create online experiences that have the same student outcomes, the same level of quality as on campus at the best schools in the world,” says Johnson. “To do that requires actual interaction with professors, small group classes, and real admission standards.” 2tor’s clever business model involves a tuition share with the participating universities. Details? Top-secret.

You can see the full 30 Under 30 – Education coverage on

Also: Jeremy Johnson, 2U Co-Founder and President of Undergraduate Programs, Named to Forbes “30 Under 30” (News Release)



By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

The cabinets, armoires, dining room tables, side tables, ottomans, lounge chairs, sconces, sofas and settees in various stages of assembly in the converted strip mall tucked beside Interstate 97 in Millersville are all descendants of a single chandelier that found its way to Memphis in 1978.

Eleanor McKay and her husband, Joe Niermann, were museum curators. A nonprofit from New Orleans asked them to restore a chandelier. Instead of cash, McKay and Niermann received permission to reproduce the piece.

It became the first product sold by Niermann Weeks, a “museum-quality” furniture and lighting design and manufacturing outfit that has since made its home in Anne Arundel County.

Over the last 34 years, the catalog has grown to about 500 standard designs and an infinite combinations and customizations.

“We created this business as a way to create museum-quality lighting and furnishings that people can have in their own homes without worrying about the immense cost or the fragility of an original,” said McKay, the CEO of Niermann Weeks.

The company moved to Maryland in 1994 and has supplied furnishings for movie stars, business titans in New York and political heavyweights in Washington D.C. Niermann Weeks made a pair of night tables for the Clintons to use in the White House and decorated them with the presidential seal and alto and tenor saxophones for the sax-playing commander in chief.

The sweet spot for Niermann Weeks the 18th Century, but designs dreamed up by the daughters of Niermann and McKay — Eleanor and Claire Niermann — have a more modern look.

The business exploits an inescapable truth of the high-end furniture world — there just aren’t enough antiques to go around.

Joe Niermann, in addition to his curating duties, spent time as an antiques buyer, McKay said.

“At that period, you could still buy 18th Century antiques,” she said. “They were not yet so abnormally expensive that you wouldn’t use them. The 18th Century didn’t produce enough stuff for all of us in the 20th and 21st centuries to use. All those [antiques] are in museums or private collections. Companies like ours create something where you’ve got the look without the expense and without the fear.”

The Niermann Weeks products are all handmade. The metal components come from a subcontractor in Upper Marlboro and everything else, the woodworking, upholstery, painting, finishing and nearly ubiquitous strands of crystals and beads draped from the arms of Niermann Weeks chandeliers, is done by the 40 employees in Millersville.

McKay said the company ships about 60 products a week.

The company’s strength remains in its lighting fixtures, the families of chandeliers and sconces that still include the design that launched Niermann Weeks more than three decades ago.

“It’s still a significant seller for us,” McKay said. “That showed us that you don’t have to work for other people and you don’t have to be a curator. You can make things that look like they should be curated, but they don’t have to be.”

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

While to most the cloud is music, movies and shared photos, a company called kloudtrack is shepherding businesses, health care institutions and government agencies into the cloud to cut costs and boost efficiency.

Annapolis-based kloudtrack is now in its 10th year, serving up software solutions that connect disparate data systems within companies and between different companies.

“We’ve created a concept we call the ‘cloud exchange,’” said Mike Binko, kloudtrack’s president and CEO. “The cloud can very easily become that middle real estate where different systems that don’t talk to each other well directly can talk to us well. We’ve created some standards that allow that to happen very efficiently, and very affordably.”

The original technology was developed in Arthur Andersen LLP to give auditors remote access to files and track their use of them. The company that eventually became kloudtrack was spun out of the accounting giant as the Enron scandal took the firm down.

Kloudtrack — the company has operated under that name since 2010 — started with a focus on the heavily regulated securities broker-dealers.

A broker-dealer signing a new client could yield reams of paperwork, Binko said.

“There are lots of signatures and revisions of documents and a whole lot of background paperwork,” he said. “Typically breakdowns can occur when there’s a lot of paper in place and you don’t have an electronic paper trail in place behind that.”

So kloudtrack put an electronic paper trail in place, allowing broker-dealers to shift some of their processes to third-party web infrastructure in the cloud and keep track of them with audit trails and other accountability features.

From the financial services sector, kloudtrack has broadened its focus to healthcare and government agencies.

The company’s software can be the bridge between medical records, billing, e-coding and transcription systems.

“For mid-market firms, the cloud becomes a platform that really levels the playing field,” Binko said.

The federal government is the biggest opportunity for the company, and, indeed, the entire sector, as agencies shift their focus from building their own data centers to evaluating the use of the cloud for their data storage needs, Binko said.

“Right now, from a technology perspective, the federal government is going through the most widespread change since the mid- and late ‘80s,” he said.

“Maryland has a chance to leapfrog states like Virginia and even California and some of the others up in New England and focus on the apps and ops side of doing critical data and process management and analytics via the cloud,” Binko said.

Kloudtrack has developed a program to guide federal agencies through their transitions to the cloud and has also rolled out a platform called ikloud that will allow users to access kloudtrack through mobile devices.

The company has also partnered with large service providers like Cisco that offer kloudtrack as part of their suite of cloud solutions.

“Cloud is an ecosystem play,” Binko said. “You’re not going to get everything you need from kloudtrack, and we realize that. But you’re also not going to get everything you need from IBM anymore, and they’re starting to realize that, too.”