One on One is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy business leaders. Elizabeth Nitze is executive director of the World Trade Center Institute, a private, non-profit organization designed to assist Maryland businesses in international trade.
Q. The World Trade Center Institute appears to have been struggling for the last two and half years to define its mission. Do you now have a clear concept of what the institute should be?
A.Yes. The Institute is very specifically focused on helping Maryland businesses develop international trade.
Q. You were one of the people who helped set up the Institute and select its director. Now he's gone and you're in charge and you seem to have scaled back your operations. What happened?
A. I think initially the World Trade Center Institute was given the mission statement of trying to help Maryland citizenry increase their global awareness, and my predecessor spent some time trying to define what programs might come under that sort of an umbrella. And it's a very broad umbrella which encompasses initiatives that are in the educational realm, the legislative realm, the business realm, and he tried to develop a number of programs that would encompass all of those areas. The World Trade Center Institute, however, is taxed with coming up with fifty percent of its funding from the private sector, and the questions was, "Who was going to support all of these programs?" even though many of them, if not all of them, were good ideas. And in the current economic climate, it was difficult to find support from the private sector for a number of these initiatives. Therefore, we have scaled back our programs to focus very specifically on initiatives that the business community has demonstrated a need for and a demand for and an ability to pay for.
Q. What were the first things you did when you took over?
A. When I took over from Chris Brescia, the first thing that I did was spend time with the staff and with the Board of Directors, getting a feel for which of the programs there was a demonstrated interest and need for from the business community and which of the programs we might have to view as coming in phase two or phase three of the evolution of the Institute. I paired down our budget significantly and moved us to a smaller office. I located furniture that would not cost us anything and I reduced the staff. Because we were taxed with coming up with fifty percent of our funding from the private sector, what I wanted to do was get our budget down to a level that was manageable and thereby give us the greatest chance of succeeding.
Q. What is your budget now?
A. Our budget now is $300,000. Just under that actually.
Q. And what had it been before?
A. I think it was over $800,000.
Q. And what had your staff level been and what is now?
A. It was seven or eight people at one time and we now have four people.
Q. What programming changes did you make?
A. After working with the staff and doing some market research with the business community and talking to my Board of Directors about what programs would be most meaningful in assisting the business community develop international trade, we decided to focus our programming on seminars, which were either country-specific, industry-specific or trade-issues specific. At this point, we have a full range of programs that are either taking a country or region of the world that it's important for our businesses to understand and consider doing business in, or we will take an industry that is important to Maryland and for companies in that industry, we will develop programming which alerts them to foreign-market opportunities and how to take advantage of them. And the final set of seminars that we do is really a nuts-and-bolts series, which is lawyers, bankers, freight forwarders, trade specialists and case-study companies talking about the full range of issues that a company encounters and needs to understand as they go international.
Q. You seem to have a rather unique management style, sitting in a cluttered room with your staff, stuffing envelopes. Aren't you worried about your image?
A. No, actually, because it seems to me that, what is the saying, a clean desk is a sign of a sick mind, and we have desks that are piled up to the ceiling, and we're considering moving to a double-decker system. But the most important thing to me was to first of all, get our budget down to a level that was manageable and second of all, produce nothing but high quality programming. And I don't think that our office or our style here is inconsistent with either of those. Actually, we work enormously hard and we work hard at having good relations with the organizations that we co-sponsor things with. We work very hard to meet the needs of the businesses that we are trying to help and we work very hard to produce first-class programs and services, and all of those, we are capable of doing in this office and by operating the way that we do.
Q. What are some of the programs that the World Trade Center Institute offers to help business people who are interested in trade?
A. We have our seminars, which I have discussed briefly. We just did one on doing business in Mexico, which we were very excited about because we had over 200 people there and 150 businesses and we have gotten a great deal of attention from around the country for that seminar and requests for information and lists of speakers and participants. I think that one of the things that we can do here by producing excellent programming is to really focus regional and national attention on Maryland as a spot where there is a lot of international activity. And my hope is that that would then translate into positive opinion and an increase of business for the port and the airport.
Q. In addition to your seminars, what other programs do you have?
A. We are a membership organization, and we work with individual companies to put them in touch with the full range of resources available to them, both locally and abroad. I am the executive director of the World Trade Center, Baltimore, also, and that is the network that offers our companies access to the network of over 250 world trade centers in 55 countries around the world. So what I do when we are working with our companies is to put them in touch with the private-sector resources that are available to assist them in gaining access to a particular country or region of the world. I alert them to the resources available at the state and the federal levels as well as at the foreign government level and then I work with the foreign world trade centers in the counties that companies are interested in getting into to see how they might be able to assist our companies.
Q. How do you avoid duplicating the services and programs of other agencies, especially the Maryland International Division?
A. That was a real concern when I took over because I know that there has been a confusion on the part of the business community about what some of the various international organizations do and how their agendas differ. So one of the first things I did was to make a point of getting to know the directors of each of the international organizations and work out with them ways in which all of us could be working together to support each others' agendas and not duplicate efforts or resources, which I think is particularly critical in this kind of economic recession. So I work very, very closely with, and have good
personal relations with, the directors of the various international organizations and we develop programming together. I have also gone to Philadelphia and to Washington and am working on other parts of the region to develop cooperative programming and joint marketing efforts with the economic development organizations in those places so that the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Greater Philadelphia High Technology Council, I have agreements with as well.
Q. What are some of the new initiatives that you're preparing?
A. I'm working with the Greater Baltimore Committee on a number of initiatives which I am hoping we will have an announcement about soon, and I am working now with the Department of Commerce to develop a Maryland corporate mentoring program, which we are hoping to launch this fall. The concept there is to harness the private sector on behalf of the private sector and develop some significant linkages among our international corporations. We would ask the five or six corporations in the state with the most significant global networks, resources and contacts, to act as mentors and adopt five or six of the most exciting and dynamic medium- and small-sized companies in the state and utilize their global networks in order to help the smaller companies develop international business, teach them how a large corporation prepares for global strategic thinking, marketing, financial issues and perhaps allow the use of some of their foreign office resources on behalf of the company, some of their market intelligence resources and whatever and after the end of a year, the small companies would graduate and hopefully continue on their path, and the mentors would adopt a new batch of five companies. So that by the end of five years, you would have 25 or 30 of our most active international corporations with significant interrelationships and linkages, which would mean they could pursue joint business development and marketing efforts and share information and resources in a way that would further all of their efforts to develop international business.
Q. Does any other state have anything similar to the World Trade Center Institute?
A. New York, which is the international headquarters for the world trade center association, has a world trade center and a world trade center institute. And that world trade center institute is very heavily involved in the kinds of educational outreach and awareness building programs that I've outlined that we are developing. They really are an excellent resource for the businesses in the region. I think that there are a couple of others; I think that the one in Orange County in California has a world trade center institute that does primarily luncheon programs with a speaker, but I would say the model that we use is the New York City one and the one that we would aspire toward. There is nothing in the region.
Q. Where does the money come from to support the institute?
A. We are 50 percent funded by the public sector and 50 percent funded by the private sector. So our sources of financing come from the state and from the private sector in the form of revenues from our programs, sponsorship, corporate sponsorship of our programs, and corporate sponsorship of the organization as a whole.