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Maryland plants flag in Russia, seeking business

By Kathy Lally
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 11, 2010; 6:23 PM

MOSCOW - Snow had been falling heavily and steadily since morning, but if that would be a deterrence at home, it did not stop the state of Maryland from planting its flag in Russia the other day, the first state to open its own trade office here.

Robert L. Walker, the state's assistant secretary for business and enterprise development, provided the Calvert coat of arms flag, which stood between U.S. and Russian flags in the grand chandelier room of Spaso House, the early 20th-century Russian neoclassical home of the American ambassador. There, John McCaslin, minister counselor for commercial affairs at the embassy, Boris Kornilov, the new Maryland representative, and Walker told a gathering of officials, businessmen and reporters why Maryland deserved their business: universities galore, the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Standards and Technology, an airport, highways, railroads, a large port, biotech and a welcoming attitude toward foreign investment.

"Russia is one of the BRIC nations, where the economies are expected to show fast growth," Walker said, referring to Brazil, Russia, India and China. "This seemed like a good place to open."

And, he added, only 1 percent of all U.S. trade now is with Russia.

When it comes to doing business in Russia, snow is the least of the problems. The new office is intended to help Maryland companies navigate what can be a slippery landscape, while helping Russian businesses invest in Maryland. "Business is always a question of risk," Walker said, "but when you invest in the United States, the only risk is associated with the business venture. You don't have to worry about political uncertainty."

Maryland, he said, has tried to nurture foreign relationships through an "incubator" exclusively for foreign-owned companies in a joint venture with the University of Maryland in College Park. "That was budgeted for three years," he said. "The goal is to make it self-sustaining through renting space and partnerships."

To open a Russian office at the same time budgets are being pared back, Maryland hired, on a contingency basis, a local businessman who has lived in the United States. He'll get paid if he channels investments and jobs to the state.

Maryland has had an office in China since the mid-1990s and also has a European office in Paris, both of which are financed by the budget. It also has 10 contingency offices like the one in Moscow - which is expected to serve all of the former Soviet Union - in other countries, including India, South Korea, Vietnam and South America.

Maryland has about 500 foreign-owned businesses employing about 100,000 Marylanders - approximately 3.5 percent of the workforce. Russia's Severstal owns the former Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point, for example, and the French company Sodexo has its U.S. headquarters in Gaithersburg.

The relationships go the other way, too. Walker stayed in a Marriott hotel in Moscow, a company based, of course, in Maryland.

Contact information
Boris Kornilov
General Representative in Russia/FSU
Department of Business & Economic Development
State of Maryland, USA
33 Sadovnicheskaya Street
Business Center “M Svyaz”
Moscow, 117998, Russia
Tel/fax: +7 (495) 953-65-87



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