The Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA) hosted a 20-member delegation of mid- to senior-level economic development professionals from Eurasia in July.

Hailing from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Ukraine, the business professionals toured HCEDA’s Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship (MCE) as part of the Special American Business Internship Training (SABIT) Program that was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s (USDC) International Trade Administration.

Justyna Swica, an international trade specialist with the USDC, said the program’s overall focus gives participants a chance to learn about best practices of leading organizations focused on regional economic development in the United States.

Established in the early 1990s as a means to engage the former Soviet Union through trade, SABIT now provides a forum to build U.S.-Eurasian partnerships, helping American organizations create new relationships and strengthen existing ties with Eurasian partners and customers within each of the former Soviet republics.

According to the International Trade Administration’s web site, SABIT’s alumni network comprises more than 5,000 leaders from business and scientific communities, all of whom are leveraging their SABIT training to drive market-based reforms, develop civil society institutions and promote economic growth in Eurasia and throughout the world.

Differences Aside

During the tour, which showcased the MCE’s 3-D printing technology, participants were briefed on incubation space, mentorship arrangements, government support and the spectrum of loan programs and terms currently in use.

“Their economic activities are clustered in their chambers of commerce, and we … talked about the similarities in terms of what they’re attempting to do,” said HCEDA Executive Vice President Vernon Thompson. “I [illustrated] some of the elements that come together to help us with the success that we have, which is location and good political leadership.”

Thompson also affirmed that the HCEDA is willing to reach out to delegation members and their partners to provide any assistance that might be available through the Department of Commerce or the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development’s International Group.

“I think the benefit we’re seeing today is an exchange of ideas,” said Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman. “I think it’s a little presumptuous of us to think we can’t learn from them as well. If there can also be an opportunity for exchanging some economic development, we’re willing to explore that.”

Having visited Kazakhstan himself on a civic literacy tour, Kittleman said he is aware that the Eurasian business community is active and evolving, and may want to explore closer ties with the United States.

“I’m very excited about whatever we can do to provide [the delegates] with any help to help businesses in [their] countries and to help economic development throughout the whole world,” he said.

New Ideas

The Eurasian delegates will spend a total of three weeks in the United States, visiting economic development organizations in the Washington, D.C., area, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Knoxville, Tenn.

“The USA is a recognized innovation leader and a leader in top technologies,” said Rakhim Oshakbayev, deputy board chair of the National Chamber of Entrepreneurs of Kazakhstan. His intent, he said, is to learn about best practices that his organization can introduce to help drive economic development in his own country.

“I’m also very impressed seeing the [MCE] tech center,” he said. “We have some incentives in our country and would like to link our centers and innovation system with the best innovation centers in the U.S.”

As the founder of the Atameken Startup fund, named for a Kazakh word that roughly translates as “homeland,” Oshakbayev said he was particularly focused on learning about different methods to fund startups.

“We are doing startup weekends all over the country, in every region,” he said, to include sponsorship of youth business competitions at universities and other learning institutions. Along the tour, he hopes to pick up new ideas for funding and for optimizing his organization’s funds at hand.

Compassionate Capitalists

HCEDA’s newest initiative, the Conscious Capitalism Central Maryland (C3MD) chapter of the Conscious Capitalism movement, kicked off in July with a promotional event at the Coho Grill at Hobbit’s Glen Golf Club in Columbia.

“Our purpose is to build the business community based on the principles of conscious capitalism,” said David Utts, a business consultant with the human capital consulting firm LeadFirst and co-organizer of the chapter. “We want to develop a conscious culture that is committed to taking care of not only shareholders, but customers and employees, as well.”

Approximately 75 business, political and nonprofit leaders heard testimony from conscious capitalism adherents that included Howard Technology Council Executive Director Tracy Turner; Wendy Slaughter, founder of the Wendy Slaughter Team at Re/Max 100; and Andra Cain, owner of Cain Contracting, in Columbia, among others.

“The fact is that many of us are unconsciously conscious capitalists already,” Utts said.

The movement draws on programming, networking and dialogue, access to resources and advisers as well as collaboration with educational, government and business development institutions.

Underscoring the validity of the concept, Utts said, is the Conscious Venture Lab housed in Howard County. “It’s the first of its kind in the United States,” he said, “an incubator that incubates companies [dedicated to] conscious capitalism principles.”