By Clayton A. Mitchell, Sr., Esquire

At the end of the Dark Ages in 1492, an Italian explorer voyaged westward in search of a new passage to India. What Christopher Columbus discovered was a New World full of opportunity beyond anyone’s imagination and the rise of modern civilization and the Renaissance began.

Almost 520 years later -- during one of the New World’s worst economic Dark Ages -- members of a Maryland delegation, led by Gov. Martin O’Malley, headed eastward in search of a modern passage to India and newfound economic opportunities. Although the trip has faded into near-term memory, the India mission will prove itself in time to be a significant keystone event in our state’s developing transitional economy.

Why India? Because it is the world’s largest democracy (population 1.2 billion) with a growing economy comprising $4.5 trillion in purchasing power parity and the fifteenth largest importer of foreign goods and services. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Indian GDP is expected to grow at an annualized average of 8% during the next four decades, making it potentially the world's fastest-growing major economy until 2050. This is fertile ground for Maryland business development. Acquiring the initial premier Indian business opportunities requires leadership.

The Maryland delegation was not wayfarers who travelled to the subcontinent in angst but leaders who proceeded with a portfolio of confidence. At a time when other states’ creditworthiness is questionable, Maryland has maintained the coveted Triple-A bond rating by setting priorities and through fiscal prudence while transitioning to the 21st Century economy. Governor O’Malley understands that no matter how harsh the Great Recession was, the business cycle would eventually purge the economy’s problems and set the stage for a comeback.

The question for the Governor was how to best position Maryland as the best place to headquarter global business in America. He understands that 21st Century commerce requires an educated trained workforce. The O’Malley Administration, in the face of shouts for severe budget cuts, ensured that Maryland’s schools remained sufficiently funded, and through the StateStat program, that the education programs remained accountable. This praxis has yielded impressive results. According to Education Week, Maryland’s public schools rank as the best in the nation. For the fourth year in a row, Maryland leads the nation in AP academic performance.

A well-educated and well-trained workforce is attractive to modern international businesses. Notwithstanding, the Governor knew that a fiscally-sound State government that received accolades for developing a superior workforce, by itself, was not enough. The Governor understood that “you can’t make sales without making sales calls”.

When the Governor arrived on the Indian shores, he was accompanied by a delegation of compatriots comprising approximately 100 business leaders, educators and elected officials. Principally among them was Delegate Kumar Barve. Mr. Barve is the House Majority Leader and the first person of Indian origin to be elected as a state legislator in United States history. He was and is the ideal ambassador for promoting Maryland’s India trade mission objectives and is the perfect watchdog for ensuring maintenance of the burgeoning business relationships.

The august Maryland delegation had a demonstrably profound and immediate impact upon their Indian counterparts. Approximately $60 million in business deals were executed during the trip with potentially millions more to come on the near horizon. However, the future economic by-products of the business and trade seeds that have been sown will not be fully realized or appreciated in the near term.

The chain-reactions of personal and business ties developed during the Indian trade mission will geometrically expand in time. The Governor’s trade mission was the merely the initial “big bang” of mutual economic opportunities. Years from now, the brief Indian sojourn will be recognized as an historic catalyst for Maryland’s modern economic expansion with one of the world’s largest economic powerhouse nations.

Governor O’Malley and Delegate Barve have blazed Maryland’s passage to India and galvanized relationships at the highest level. It is now up to us – the Maryland workers and business leaders - to seize opportunity and follow their lead.

Clayton A. Mitchell, Sr. is an attorney in Stevensville and regular contributor to Center Maryland.