At virtually every campaign stop, Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Ben Jealous, tells a story about the one that got away.
The tale comes from the former NAACP president’s years as a venture capitalist, and it involves a Canadian businessman who was looking to open a manufacturing plant in the United States. According to Jealous, he was trying to sell the company owner on a location in Baltimore.
Jealous says the owner was intrigued by the idea of bringing his operation — and 300 jobs — to the city. But the deal fell apart because of Maryland’s soaring health care costs, he says. Of course, Jealous’ take is that Gov. Larry Hogan is to blame.
It is not unusual for politicians to embellish the facts to make a political point, but in this case Jealous is not telling a fish story. There is such a company, and its founder says Jealous’ story is true.
At the request of The Baltimore Sun, the Jealous campaign provided the name of Joey Hundert, CEO of Sustainitech in Edmonton, Alberta.
Hundert, 37, said his company makes indoor farms in refrigerated shipping containers that make it possible to grow fruits and vegetables in inhospitable climates such as those in northern Alberta or in urban settings. He said that in late 2016 and early 2017 he wanted to build a manufacturing facility in a place closer to major markets than northern Canada.
At the time, Jealous was a partner in Kapor Capital — a job he plans to leave Dec. 31. Hundert said he spoke with Jealous, whom he considers a friend, at a conference. He said Jealous invited him to Baltimore to show him a site that might be suitable for a factory. (Hundert doesn’t recall the name of the neighborhood, but Jealous says it was in South Baltimore.)
Hundert said the site had a lot going for it — competitive energy prices, access to the port of Baltimore, an available workforce for jobs that did not require a lot of specialized skills. He said the company began modeling the costs and benefits. And that’s where problems emerged.
Democrat Ben Jealous’ campaign for governor said its models indicate that registered Democrats will make up just 57 percent of voters by Election Day. That would be slight bump from the last gubernatorial election four years ago but hardly a dramatic “blue wave” as Jealous has predicted.