Eric Friend has completed his first year as executive director of the Linthicum-based Maritime Institute of Technology & Graduate Studies and the International Organization of Master, Mates & Pilots. That mark on his career timeline came after two years helping steer the schools and the organization’s conference operation out of COVID-19, so today he’s feeling optimistic since the organization has made important strides toward reaching MITAGS’s pre-pandemic annual revenues.

Friend, who had served as director of MITAGS and succeeded longstanding Executive Director Glen Paine, is a graduate of the United States Merchant Marine Academy and later earned his Master of Management with a concentration in Organizational Leadership through the American Military University. He discussed the future of the organization as it gears up for its (slightly belated) 50th anniversary.

What does MITAGS do?

We are a nonprofit vocational training center for individuals looking to enter the maritime industry and for professionals seeking to advance their careers. We are also the primary training facility for the Masters, Mates & Pilots Union.

 What is your financial setup?

We just changed from a 501(c) (9) to become a 501(c) (3), which enables us to pursue grant opportunities, with our conferences still falling under the for-profit umbrella. You usually do not find an academic operation and a conference operation utilizing shared resources, though some colleges have this type of arrangement.

Eric Friend.

How did MITAGS come to be located in Linthicum?

MITAGS has started operating in 1967 at the old Emerson Hotel in Downtown Baltimore to train officers for the Vietnam War. Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, the chairman of the House Merchant Marine & Fisheries Committee was from Maryland and land was available here; in 1972, MITAGS was established in Linthicum.

How many students are served each year?

We annually issue about 6,000 certificates.

What’s the market demand for your offerings?

About 60% of our business is derived from custom courses. The remaining 40% is from the open enrollment of individuals who are seeking to advance their careers. MITAGS offers more than 168 classes for groups of three to 24 individuals in a class, which are offered once a month, once a quarter or twice a year, depending on demand.

We also have a small full-time faculty of four instructors, regular adjunct facility and other specialists on both coasts. So our adjunct faculty total can rise to 160.

Has MITAGS offered more opportunities for hybrid learning since the pandemic?

Not really. Much of what we require includes a considerable amount of teamwork and demonstration of a task(s). If you need to abandon ship, fight a fire or ride a life raft, for instance, you can’t do that virtually.

How does MITAGS generate revenue?

About 40% comes from operational research, 30% is from individuals taking customized courses, 18% is through a trust fund that employers support and the remaining 12% is from our basic courses.

And what is its economic impact?

Our annual economic impact is wide-ranging. Locally, nationally and internationally, we help port authorities, companies and regulators with infrastructure investment projects as they relate to maritime port operations. Also, a majority of our students and conference guests are from outside the region. Many fly in and out of BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and then [partake in] associated meals and lodging while here. 

How does MITAGS connect with the local business community?

Through various partnerships that help support MITAGS and service our students and conference guests.

How does the MITAGS hotel fit into the local market?

We have 232 rooms that are offered to attendees of our conferences and other guests. In addition, we trade overflow to the local hotels. However, we don’t solicit transient business on the open market. During the oversold time in the local market, hotel partners will send overflow in our direction.

What’s different at MITAGS as the world has moved away from the worst of the pandemic?

We’ve had to rebuild our staff because we had to lay off or furlough a significant amount of our workforce. Partially for that reason, it wasn’t until June 2022 that we started to see a small recovery on our bottom line.    

How many functions does the Maritime Conference Center host per year?

About 323 events, which range from one day to a week in length. We constantly have guests arriving and departing from within the state, the region and across the country.

How much of your annual revenue comes from the conference facility?

Pre-pandemic, our numbers were typically between $10.9 and $12.9 million. We anticipate $7 million for 2022, but we’re awaiting final audited numbers.

How does MITAGS work with area authorities during periods of public distress?

We have a large generator, so we’re able to work with governments and private concerns, such as BGE, to assist during weather emergencies. For instance, we often house the line workers who come here from other states and need accommodations while they assist our local workforce.

Are there any plans to update your facility?

Yes, and we have a $5.4 million capital investment plan. It calls for the basics, such as connecting our emergency generator to a microgrid as part of the Resilient Maryland Program; and other improvements, such as updates to our full-mission ship simulators and information technology infrastructure.

Some of those upgrades can be covered by grants we’re hoping to obtain. Our new nonprofit status is helpful on that front, too. Also, know that when we make money, we invest it right back into the facility and our people, since we don’t have to accommodate shareholders.

What’s the best thing MITAGS has going for it?

It’s the people combining their experience with the teaching tools, such as the simulators, and integrating with various industries.

What are the biggest challenges for MITAGS?

Being a nonprofit and having to chase business every year. The market constantly evolves and we have to adjust and know that what we offer is not scalable. Our programs are not applicable across different industries.

How will MITAGS celebrate its 50th anniversary?

We’ll be holding a 50th-anniversary gala on June 8 that will not only raise funds for MITAGS, but for a local charity as well.