O'Malley claims successes on India trip
Gov. Martin O'Malley, wrapping up the second full day of his trade mission to India, said Tuesday that his visit to the world's second-largest nation has already paid off by helping to wrap up business deals that are expected to bring jobs to Maryland.
Speaking via Skype from Mumbai, where it was after 10 p.m., to reporters gathered in the State House Tuesday morning, O'Malley predicted that India would rank among Maryland's five largest trade partners within five years. He said the Asian nation now ranks 11th among the nations to which Maryland exports, up from 18th in 2005.
"It would be economically irresponsible of us not to become more engaged with India," O'Malley said.
O'Malley is leading a delegation including his wife, state officials, educators and business leaders -- more than 100 in all --- on a six-day trip to India via the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. The delegation's first Indian stop was in Hyderabad. The group had a schedule of events Tuesday in Mumbai and is expected to go to New Delhi Wednesday.
The governor's trip has been criticized by some state residents for its cost and because of doubts of its value, but O'Malley countered that such missions are vital to competing in the modern business world. He said the criticism of his foreign travel reflect a strain of "xenophobia" in American politics.
"Our state is a great place because of our trade with people all around the world," he said. "That's our legacy, that's our tradition, that's our history."
The governor also noted that Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, had led a delegation to India just two weeks ago. But O'Malley boasted that Maryland sent a much larger group -- the largest state delegation ever to visit that country.
In recent decades, Maryland governors of both parties have embarked on trade missions -- often amid questions about whether the results justify the expense. But economic development proponents regularly contend that the personal involvement of top elected officials is critical in promoting their states.
Matt Proud, political director for the Maryland Republican Party, declined to criticize O'Malley's travels. He did, however, comment that it was good to finally see the governor do something to drum up business for the state.
Among the deals finalized on the trip was a contract under which Rockville-based Sheladia Associates -- an engineering and architecture firm -- will provide design services for construction of a highway in India. Manish Kothari, president of the firm who is traveling with O'Malley, said the $3.7 million deal will lead to increased hiring at its Rockville headquarters.
Meanwhile, Greenbelt-based ANGARAI, a management consulting firm, signed an agreement with CI, a technology development company based in Chennai, India, to work together on various projects -- a deal that could lead to CI opening a Maryland office.
In addition, Maryland sealed an agreement with the U.S. India Importers Council under which the state and the business group will work together to promote exports from Maryland to India.
Karen Glenn Hood, a spokeswoman for the Department of Business and Economic Development, said it would be several weeks before the state has a precise estimate of the cost of the trip. But she said it would likely be in the neighborhood of the $144,086 cost of the governor's 10-day trip to China, Korea and Vietnam in May and June. She said the delegation on that trip was smaller but that the longer duration would likely make the two trips close in price. The figures do not include the cost of the governor's security detail, which is paid for out of the Maryland State Police budget.
The private business people and three Indian-American delegates on the trip are paying their own expenses, according to the governor's office. University officials' travel is being covered out of the budgets of their institutions, while the state is paying the costs for 11 state officials making the trip -- as well as First Lady Katie O'Malley.