While economic development officials have for years focused on trying to encourage more exports from the state of Maryland, little attention has been paid to the important influence that imports have on the state, the city and the region.
In fact, more than 16 million tons of goods and raw materials flow into the Port of Baltimore each year, valued at $12.7 billion--or twice the amount of goods and materials exported, reports a Johns Hopkins researcher in a study released today.
"For a long time, the influence of imports on the region's economy has been largely ignored in favor of exports," said Marsha Schachtel, a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies who led the import study. "But that seems to be changing. President Clinton recently has been highlighting some of the beneficial effects that imports can provide, which range from good deals for consumers to contributing to continued low inflation, as well as import-related jobs."
In looking at the influence of imports on Maryland's economy, Schachtel and her colleagues brought together data from other reports, surveyed 83 computer and electronics companies in Maryland and conducted in-depth case studies of a number of firms engaged in importing.
Imports into the Port of Baltimore and Baltimore-Washington International Airport continue to grow, employing workers to receive the goods and raw materials and to handle, process or customize such goods.
For instance, the largest single import segment is automobiles and other vehicles, which accounted for 470,000 tons worth an estimated $5 billion in 1998 alone. All of those vehicles had to be unloaded and many had to be serviced, repaired or otherwise altered for the U.S. market, which meant significant employment.
Schachtel and her colleagues examined a number of foreign-owned firms with locations in Maryland in more detail, questioning them about the size of their staff, nature of their imports and other activities they are involved with.
A good example is FKI plc, a British-owned firm with operations in Frederick, Md. Formerly called Crisplant, the firm began in 1982 with a 15-person sales staff in Maryland, but since has expanded to employ 170 people engaged in everything from sales and distribution to research and development and manufacuturing.
FKI is one of the nearly 800 foreign-owned firms located in Maryland, many of which import foreign-made products to distribute to the U.S. market, or import raw materials and parts later used in manufacturing goods. A separate study noted that those firms alone account for nearly 75,000 jobs in Maryland.
Schachtel says an understanding and an appreciation of what imports mean to the Maryland economy can be an important beginning for policymakers to exploit future opportunities. Maryland officials and business leaders can enhance the economic impact of imports by:
promoting Maryland as a good location for customer service centers associated with imported goods.
increasing efforts to attract foreign manufacturers.
implementing current plans to enhance port and airport facilities.
building on an already strong working relationship between the state's economic development officials and its transportation agencies, so that they may better coordinate strategies, such as capitalizing on the growth of the biosciences industry in Maryland.
Go to Headlines@HopkinsHome Page