While Kelly Schulz’s recent effort to make it to the Governor’s Mansion fell short, it didn’t take her long to land at her next station: last fall, she was named CEO of the 650-member Maryland Tech Council ― just after its addition of three regional councils in key markets in the state.
Her hiring came after seven years of serving Gov. Larry Hogan as secretary of two state departments: labor (starting in 2015) and commerce (in 2019). Today, Schulz and her new team can easily promote Maryland’s well-known intellectual resources to the business community, but know they have to focus on strengthening other disciplines. They include the recruitment and retention of science, technology, engineering and math students, as well as workforce development.
How did you juggle family obligations, work, attending college and community activities before you graduated in 2006 from Hood College?
One thing you learn early on is that busy people get things done. I didn’t realize how busy I was during that stretch of my life until several years later, but my two boys were wonderful and we got through it.
What business did you run around that time of your graduation?
CyberWolf Technologies, which was a cyber server company based in Annapolis, where I was the managing partner until I was appointed as secretary of the Department of Labor & Licensing. After I joined the state, my business partner moved on to other entrepreneurial enterprises.
What led you to run for delegate in Frederick County?
I’d been a volunteer in the political arena and provided some staff functions, so I knew what it took to successfully represent the community. When the opportunity came to run in 2010 for delegate in Frederick County, I got on the Republican ballot and won, then was reelected in 2014.
What surprised you the most when you were secretary of DLLR?
There was so much at first, but nothing that proved overwhelming. That was a good thing, since the agency employs about 1,700 workers and that job required analyzing a great deal of intricate data. But what really surprised me was that the agency lacked a business-friendly attitude, so we trained every single employee. Great customer service was Gov. Hogan’s’ number one demand and I think we solved the issue.
What was your biggest takeaway from your stint as secretary of Commerce?
How important workforce development is within the economic development spectrum, how similar those disciplines are and how to operate them in unison. That’s crucial, because Commerce is the funnel where everything comes together to sell what Maryland has to offer.
The Council recently added regional chapters in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, as well as Baltimore. Will there be more?
Quite possibly. We’re exploring opportunities in other parts of the state like Southern Maryland, which is known for its robotics and drone sectors, as well as Patuxent River Naval Air Station, because it feeds into the lucrative Washington, D.C. market; and Harford County, to promote Aberdeen Proving Ground, its military presence and many contractors.
What’s your take on efforts to enroll/keep high school and college students successfully enrolled in STEM disciplines?
That’s a state issue, but that has to start with jurisdictions acting locally and exposing students at the K-12 level, plus engaging sectors that are not typically encouraged, such as African Americans, Latinos, women, etc. However, know that the world is changing and there are now many groups working to attract students from various racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. And today, all students need to learn STEM disciplines, even if they don’t plan to enter that field.
What is being done to encourage minorities/women to get involved in technology?
The Council offers a couple of programs. One is the Technology Inclusivity Initiative, which aims to increase inclusivity within the tech industry; also, we’re starting the BioHub Maryland Initiative to connect underrepresented students to opportunities for certification in bio health and life sciences.
Is a healthy amount of venture capital money available to tech startups?
There’s never enough, of course, but availability runs in cycles and there’s more now than there used to be. We offer Venture Mentoring Services, which is modeled after a program at MIT that involves volunteers teaching entrepreneurs how to raise funds and set up business plans. In just a few years, participating companies have raised about $125 million.
How does the state’s tech community mesh with its manufacturing sector?
Manufacturing 4.0 is a big deal and is naturally meshing with high tech, particularly because manufacturers often lack workforce and our ecosystem offers impressive resources. Maryland is becoming a go-to place for disciplines like biomanufacturing, for instance, notably along Route 270 and Route 15 in Frederick County. The state also offers tax incentives via the More Jobs for Marylanders program.
How is the Council working to keep growing tech companies in Maryland?
Our Baltimore regional chapter aims to connect the younger generation with opportunities. It’s intended to prevent the loss of our educated students to other markets by informing them about what Maryland offers. Other conduits to that end are the Biotechnology Investment Incentive Tax Credit and the Buy Maryland Cybersecurity Tax Credit.
What’s the biggest challenge for Maryland’s tech companies?
Workforce. Everything comes down to the people who build you up.
Has doing business in Maryland gotten easier than it was eight years ago?
Yes. The Hogan administration has eliminated numerous regulations and tightened some that overlap, as well as offering better customer service. But is it the best it can be? No. We still have some work to do, especially because tax laws are not easy to change. But we’ve improved.
What part of your career makes you proudest?
One thing that will never leave me is running Commerce during COVID-19. It was a surreal experience; we worked 24 hours a day for 15 months. We were able to start the grants program on March 23, 2022 10 days after the shutdown. We weren’t equipped to do it, but we had to build the airplane while in flight.
Might another run for office be in your future?
I have no interest at this time to run for office.