In the intervening year since the merger of the Baltimore Washington Corridor and West Anne Arundel County chambers of commerce, the Central Maryland Chamber (CMC) has made some confident strides in establishing a well-defined identity.

It’s still primarily a business resource and regional business advocate. But much like the character of any wine is affected by terroir, the circumstances of territory, economy and historic context have helped shape the CMC’s transition, allowing certain unique aspects to be more fully expressed in the final blend.

“We just stood up a Regional Economic Development Committee,” noted CMC’s inaugural CEO Raj Kudchadkar. “We’re exploring how we can maximize our role and our unique position as a regional chamber.”

It’s certainly no coincidence that Kudchadkar initially was hired as CEO of the West Anne Arundel Chamber and asked to continue in that role for the CMC. His background as executive director of the Base (formerly BRAC) Business Initiative (BBI) and deputy director of Howard County’s Department of Planning and Zoning made him “a natural choice,” said former West County Chamber Board Chair Randy Fisher in a 2016 interview with The Business Monthly. “He has the type of entrepreneurial spirit any chamber would want.”

Likewise, it would be a mistake to underestimate the significance of the CMC counting the economic development organizations of Anne Arundel, Howard and Prince George’s counties as close strategic partners.

“I think the Regional Economic Development Committee is really going to define the unique role we play as a chamber in this region,” Kudchadkar said.

Opportunity Abounds

The CMC held its first Economic Forecast Luncheon last year on Oct. 30 at the BWI Marriott in Linthicum, featuring a regional economic development panel as part of the program. Speakers from the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. (AAEDC), Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA) and Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp. (PGCEDC) provided updates on their respective jurisdictions.

“We continue to see tremendous growth in the western part of the county,” said AAEDC President and CEO Julie Mussog. “BWI [airport] continues to show incredible growth in both cargo and passenger traffic, with a $60 million new expansion … and six additional international gates.”

In Howard County, the historically low unemployment rate is translating to a key challenge in the war for talent in the high tech sector.

“Across sectors we’ve got … sub-10% vacancy rates and very strong property fundamentals,” said HCEDA Vice President of Business Development Mark Thompson.

David Lewis, director of economic development for PGCEDC, said his county led the state in job growth for the initial three quarters of 2017, adding 11,000 net new jobs.

Opportunity abounds in Howard County’s Maple Lawn and Annapolis Junction Town Center developments, at Arundel Gateway and Brandon Woods III in Anne Arundel County and in the Westphalia Town Center in Prince George’s County.

“The Purple Line light rail transit system broke ground on Aug. 28,” Lewis said, highlighting the $2 billion construction project that will connect New Carrollton and Bethesda along 16 miles with 21 stations.

“Konterra Town Center East in Laurel is scheduled to begin construction in 2018,” he added, encompassing 350 acres already entitled for 12 million square feet of mixed-use development.

According to Kudchadkar, the CMC will be looking closely at some of the additional larger projects and actions that will be impacting the region. These include the state’s interest in developing a high-speed superconducting magnetic levitation transportation system, the Camden Line Coalition’s efforts to increase capacity and ridership on the MARC line, and the expansion of Tipton Airport’s runway alongside its growing role in regional commerce.

Chamber Strengths

Speaking to the benefits the CMC is working to bring to the region, “We appreciate the efficiency that the consolidation [of chambers] brings,” Mussog said. “Through the CMC, AAEDC continues its connection to many of the businesses in West County and those located along the Parkway.”

The chamber doesn’t just focus on business engagement, resources and advocacy, she said. “It also is a stakeholder in moving forward development projects in West County … and has a role in promoting Fort Meade. We envision working with them for many years to come to amplify the business opportunities and development efforts in what is one of the fastest growing communities in Maryland.”

Looking back on a year of working with the CMC, PGCEDC Vice President Pradeep Ganguly said his organization is “pleased with the new leadership, focus and direction. We look forward to a continued partnership with the CMC.”

HCEDA CEO Larry Twele said the CMC is providing a unique forum to bring the three counties’ economic development organizations together to talk on a regular basis about what’s going on — and the opportunity that exists — in each of the adjacent jurisdictions.

“It allows us to reach a little further into those jurisdictions than we’re used to doing,” he said. “The businesses we deal with don’t survive on their own, they have to be networked, and this extends our ability to help and support them. It’s a great example of a collaborative effort.”

Breaking It Down

Post-merger, the CMC’s membership has been hovering around 600, making it one of the largest chambers in the state.

“About 45% of our membership is headquartered in Anne Arundel County, 35% in Prince George’s County, 15% in Howard County and the other 5% comes from Montgomery County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City and a sprinkling of District of Columbia companies,” Kudchadkar said. “Our catchment area covers roughly 30 miles in diameter centered on a pin in the middle of Fort Meade, covering about 75% of our membership.”

The densest concentration is located in western Anne Arundel, eastern Howard and northern Prince George’s counties, ranging from sole proprietors to businesses with more than 20,000 employees.

“The largest portion of our businesses, more than 30%, have 10 employees or fewer,” Kudchadkar said, and include corporations, nonprofits and government entities.

The CMC is still tweaking its brand and identity focus, though it’s now finalized for the most part.

“When you go through a merger, things will be different for both sets of memberships,” Kudchadkar observed. “One was regional to begin with, the other was more localized. You’re not going to meet everybody’s needs.”

Strategic Plan

Now that a year’s worth of financial and legal due diligence has put the chamber on stable footing, the focus in 2018 will be on developing a strategic plan.

“We can begin looking five years or 10 years out,” Kudchadkar said. “We’re actively engaged in regional transportation and small business support, but we don’t have a Workforce Development Committee; is that something we need to look at? We also don’t have a government contracting committee; as a regional chamber that’s something we should be looking at more closely.”

Kudchadkar’s experience of running the BBI program and matching up small businesses with opportunity generated by the growth around Fort Meade is now beginning to pay dividends, not only for himself and the companies he’s worked with, but for the region’s entire economic ecosystem.

“I’ve had many different jobs in government, the private sector, nonprofits, practicing law and teaching, but this is the best job I’ve ever had, and I absolutely love working with the businesses here,” Kudchadkar said. “I have the easiest job in the world because this chamber is in such a vibrant area. Selling this area isn’t hard, it’s just making sure people know about it.”