With the organization celebrating its 50th anniversary ― which wasn’t a given to occur considering the tribulations caused by the COVID-19 shutdown ― there has been an ample dose of good news at Linthicum’s Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies.
That’s been especially welcome, too, given MITAGS’s lack of cash flow after the pandemic. That’s the result of the cancellation of in-person classes and meetings, causing a lack of students and other travelers to stay in its 232 rooms that have been in need of renovation for years and years. Ditto for parts of its physical plant.
But of late MITAGS, which became a nonprofit two years ago, recently received some hefty cash infusions. For instance, a more than $500,000 grant from Maryland Energy Administration will send the institute on its path to update its 12 simulators that are used for training, including navigation and ship handling, via the Offshore Wind Workforce Development Assessment.
“All told, that boosted in the right direction,” said Executive Director Eric Friend.
But that was just the start of the good news. Next came $1.8 million from the Good Jobs Challenge Grant, which was won by the state from the federal government’s Economic Development Administration. The grant, an offshoot of the American Rescue Plan Act that was acquired via the state’s Department of Labor, “will get us almost to the finish line in regard to what we need to improve our simulation system,” said Friend.
On that note, at its recent 50th anniversary celebration, he announced that MITAGS will receive $100,000 from the Matson Foundation, the nonprofit arm of a shipping and logistics corporation that mainly operates on the West Coast. “That will be used to finish the simulation system upgrades,” he said.
The grants and/or gifts also had a great side effect: they freed MITAGS to use its own capital money “and invest in our west coast operation in Seattle,” said Friend, “to update the simulators there, as well.”
So what was next on the agenda? Asking a state senator for $500,000. And getting much, much more.
“When we asked Sen. Pam Beidle for $500,000, she was able to secure $850,000 that will be used to replace our emergency generator and start the micro grid,” said Friend, “in an effort to improve our, and the community’s, energy resilience.
“Also,” he said, “she was instrumental in bringing other agencies and organizations to the table to acquire that money, which is crucial since the micro grid endeavor is an up to $2.6 million project that could easily grow larger. So we need those people who might assist to be involved and aware.”
Next, Friend said, comes creating a feasibility study for that system with the MEA.
Friend said Beidle “realizes what we do here is critical, due to occasional weather-related issues at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and around the area. Also, when out-of-state crews come here to assist during power outages and other emergencies, they stay here for lodging and food, often for several days at a time. Our providing that service can be urgent to the needs of not only our immediate area, but the region.”
As for Beidle, she said the reason she was able to get the $850,000 “was because during weather events,” like a blizzard, an ice storm, a derecho, etc., “extra power crews come here from other markets and they stay at MITAGS.”
However, that had become a capacity issue in case of the weather knocking out the power at MITAGS, thus requiring a generator. “The old generator was to the point that it could only power 25 rooms during an outage,” she said, “which also would have limited food service.”
Also, said Friend, is the rooms in the hotel need a refresh.
“For that project, we’ll need $9 million for ongoing capital projects that include an update of MITAGS’s 100,000-square-feet meeting space, $180,000 to renovate the auditorium and an update of those 232 hotel rooms.
“In our 50 years, rooms have been redone in a piecemeal fashion. And the plumbing is 50 years old,” he said, “but to give you an example, the big hotel companies renovate their rooms roughly once every several years. That’s the industry standard.”
And while it’s nice that “We score very high for the cleanliness of our rooms on our guests and students comment cards,” said Friend, “we have don’t have HDTVs in the rooms.”
Today, as the U.S. market deals with inflation and a still moody stock market, Friend hopes that changing to a 501(c) (3) from a 501(c) (9) — enabling MITAGS to accept tax-deductible donations — will continue to be a catalyst for its improved financial fortunes.
The importance of the community landmark is not lost within the local business community. Jill Porter, who worked at the Institute for eight years and is now business development director for the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., discussed the importance of the Conference Center and the national and regional groups it attracts.
“They can include up to 400 people,” Porter said, “which generates a positive tourism impact.”
On its education side, she also pointed out the importance of adding Global Wind Organisation Basic Safety Training to support the region’s budding offshore wind industry.
“The goal will be to train thousands of individuals to prepare them for new jobs,” she said. “These efforts will be vital to Maryland’s economy and its ability to embrace this source of renewable energy.”
In the end, spurring business creation is what it’s all about, said Ray Cajudoy, director of sales and account management for Spain-based Amadeus Hospitality and a veteran of the local tourism scene.
“MITAGS is a huge economic driver for the area and brings not only local groups, but international students in the maritime field to the area,” Cajudoy said. “It helps spur the growth in the BWI Business District.”