This is the final part of a two-part interview featuring Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation President Jim Coleman. Coleman, County Executive Rushern Baker III and a delegation of business owners recently returned from a China mission where Coleman said delegates saw a heavy return. In this part, Coleman talks about how one delegate made […]
This is the final part of a two-part interview featuring Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation President Jim Coleman. Coleman, County Executive Rushern Baker III and a delegation of business owners recently returned from a China mission where Coleman said delegates saw a heavy return.
In this part, Coleman talks about how one delegate made an investment into China’s hospitals and could return millions from that. He also speaks about how schools impact the county’s economy and their business with China, and the county executive’s investment in the people of Prince George’s County. Take a read.
Sentinel: Like you just said, you all were tired.
Coleman: Yes, by the third day. It felt non-stop. We were 14 hours jet lagged and had to go to meetings about six hours after we got to the hotel.
Sentinel: Was there any difficulty in finding a balance, and maintaining your focus, with it actually being a business trip and not a vacation.
Coleman: Good question.
Sentinel: The mentality when you go somewhere foreign is fun.
Coleman: It is fun and we made it fun. We had great restaurants for lunch. We had great guests over there and we ate a lot of different kinds of food each evening. On Thursday, when we got to Shanghai, we did give the delegation a day of touring to be able to go through Shanghai. Shanghai, it looks as hot as New York City. It is fascinating. We did get a chance to see the Great Wall, but we were only able to stay about an hour and a half because we had a major conference to go to in Beijing. So everybody kept their suits on. But you can’t go to China without seeing the Great Wall. But we did give them a chance on Thursday in Shanghai to download, reflect, kind of absorb what was happening and to have some free time.
But from Saturday, all the way up until Thursday, we were rocking. There were 33 business-to-business meetings. One-on-one meetings. We had about 13 different conferences that we spoke at. The county executive would introduce me and I would present this powerpoint. The powerpoint was in mandarin and once it was finished, I would introduce the delegates. And it was like Elvis was in the room. Everyone was running up to them and asking them questions. We did need a break on Thursday, but it was nonstop work. It was nonstop until we got on the plane coming home.
We have one delegate that said ‘based on the experience, I would pay three times the amount to do it all over again’ based on what he got out of it. He’s looking at about $84 million with his medical technology system being sold into seven large hospitals in China. His first year annual sales could be $20 million.
Sentinel: That’s a pretty amazing investment.
Coleman: These are real life situations, but you can’t just get tired after day two and say alright, why don’t we take a break tomorrow? For me, I would’ve liked to have taken a day off, but I know that would’ve been a waste of our time. And I know, as a leader, County Executive Baker and I had to continue to remind the delegation of ‘Why are we here?’ And we need to cut the crap and close the gap between us and Montgomery County.
We need to lower our poverty rate and improve tax revenue to our schools. Montgomery County brings in about $160 billion in property tax revenue every year. We bring in $80 billion. That’s 50 percent. When the governor says I want you to write a check for the Purple Line, where do you want us to send it? Why do they have schools over there where they are competitive on being able to pay their teachers a good wage and to hold and retain good teachers? Because they bring in two times the property tax revenue that we bring in. And that’s not because they’re charging everybody more on their house. It’s because the median house value in Montgomery County is about $460,000, while we’re at about $230,000. So the best way to fix everything is to increase the median household income of all of our residents here in Prince George’s County.
Sentinel: That ‘we’re open to the world’ phrase, that’s something I’ve heard the county executive say over and over again and I guess that’s something that you all took over to China. How do you think opening Prince George’s County up to the world will impact the economy here?
Coleman: Most major metropolitan areas in the United States that have a high median household income have a very diverse population. They’re very inviting. They have a vibrant arts community. That’s why we’re strong on this project in the motion picture business. Because we know that will help to elevate our arts community. When you’ve got a strong arts community and you’ve got a lot of diversity and you’re inviting people from all over the world focused on high tech sectors, that’s going to raise median household income for everybody.
When you can do that, you’re going to give your residents more money to spend. They’ll be more sustainable. They’re going to buy bigger houses, they’re going to buy cars, they’re going to be able to send their kids to college and they’re going to be more than willing to send their kids to college and be able to pay for it.
When we can help our moms and dads make more money, they’re going to say, ‘You know what? I want to invest in this. I want to help our schools make more money.’
Sentinel: You said you brought Dr. Kevin Maxwell over with you. Why? How did that work? Education is the farthest thing in my mind from this.
Coleman: The best way to enhance your economy is to make sure you are constantly trying to enhance your schools. The CEOs, the first thing they’re going to think about, is if they’re going to move their companies to Prince George’s County, where in the world are our kids going to go to school? And that’s anywhere. Will my employees, the ones with kids in school, be happy or will they quit instead and stay where we currently are?
It’s a big decision. It’s a big decision anytime a company is moving, especially when things are going well. You want to be able to move somewhere where the schools are good and not just public schools, but getting kids in college. And the biggest way to do that is to buy a home. And homes need to be in areas where they appreciate. Homes are only going to appreciate in an area where schools are good.
Sentinel: I’m sure you’ve seen the Laurel Hospital all over the news. There were a lot of people complaining that the county executive was in China at the time when this was happening. They were saying that it wasn’t beneficial to people in Prince George’s County. You would disagree?
Coleman: Absolutely. The county executive cares a lot about Prince George’s County. He put his political career on the line for schools. He wasn’t even challenged in the last election in the polls. But because of his real, true commitment to education, he put it all on the line to say we’ve got to do more and move the needle.
He’s not afraid to be unpopular. I don’t know anybody more committed in Prince George’s County than County Executive Baker. I’ve known him for 37 years. He really wants to serve. He’s not that concerned about making money. That is not his ultimate objective. He loves serving the people of Prince George’s County, but he still loves being county executive. And he loves being county executive, whether he’s in China or at home. He’s got a great management team and his top commissioners are always on it. Whether he’s in China or at home, he’s always in charge.
He was in China on the phone making conference calls about that Laurel Hospital issue the whole time. While, at the same time, he’s going downstairs getting off conference calls and speaking to groups of 800 people and the results are $1.3 to $2.9 billion in commerce that can be generated just by 13 companies. There were bilateral agreements between the education system in China and Prince George’s County. He’s non-stop. Anybody that challenges him on that is crazy. It’s people not thinking broadly about where we want to take this county. He is not going to sit home behind the desk half-stepping because of what people think.
Sentinel: And to see how this benefits the people of the county, do you have to think long-term? Obviously you’re looking to bring back jobs, but what else does it give you?
Coleman: Relationships. To have the Z-Park connection could literally make Prince George’s County the Silicon Valley of the East coast. There’s nothing they have over there that we don’t have. They have Stanford University, we’ve got the University of Maryland. They’ve got great investors and we’ve got investors over here. They’ve got a great workforce, we do too.
One of the big differences that we have and we offer is we have 14 federal agencies. They’re all buying anywhere from $50 to $70 billion a year with anything from toilet paper to technology. And a lot of it is technology. And for someone who is looking to launch a tech company here in Prince George’s County, you don’t have to take out a loan. You don’t have to give up 90 percent to some private equity firm. You can launch it here at our accelerator and we’ll connect you with an agency like NASA.
This man is doing these things. He needs to be selling to the world and managing things at home and he does that. You can be sure of it.