Troy A. LeMaile-Stovall

How Maryland can take a lesson from Superman and Popeye to move forward

Growing up, options from only six television channels framed my world. That framing introduced me to two characters who provide an allegory for economic development efforts in Maryland: Popeye the Sailor man (Popeye) and Superman – a comic book character originally created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. They are associated with “Spinach and Kryptonite;” one gives super strength to a simple being while the other cripples the strongest of the strong.

Popeye was a one-eye animated character (originally created by Elzie Crisler Segar) who would eat his always seemingly available can of spinach that gave him superhuman abilities. When eating the spinach, he would almost always say “I am strong to the finish, ’cause I eats my spinach” – his spinach eating didn’t give him speech powers. The point? Digesting spinach transformed him from a simple one-eyed sailor man to a simple one-eyed superhuman sailor man.

Superman’s name says it all; he’s a super “man” (technically not a human). Kal-El is the last son of the planet Krypton – a planet that exploded after he was flown to safety. The fragments (stones) from that planet cause his “super” to weaken into just a man. And for our comic book lovers, I am focused on green kryptonite; I am aware there are other forms of kryptonite that have different effects on Kal-El.

So, we have a small can (16 ounces) of spinach that gives superpowers and a small stone capable of stealing superpowers. I believe we all have our spinach and kryptonite in our personal and professional lives; we all have something that gives us the ability to fight beyond our normal abilities and we each have that small stone that can truly limit or even cripple us. Then at times, that which is spinach can also be kryptonite. This is also true for our ecosystem.

Quoting Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, Maryland is “asset rich.” Maryland has multiple assets or many cans of spinach: federal labs, an educated workforce, cyber, life sciences, low unemployment and research universities – amongst others. But having these resources or cans of spinach has not led to the creation of long-term, sustainable growth – the “superpower” that would make Maryland stand out as a tech hub – making our spinach also our kryptonite.

TEDCO in collaboration with RTI released a Maryland Innovation Competitiveness Study, and one of the key conclusions was that RTI-Keen Point found that Maryland’s … real gross domestic product grew only 1.0% per year from 2011–2022. If this continues, it will have a negative effect on … the state’s overall fiscal health. The high-tech sector …needs (to grow) 3% to 4% per year compared to its past-10-years growth rate of 1.6% per year.

As part of our efforts to launch the Cyber Maryland Program effort at TEDCO, a number of public and private sector leaders visited the Georgia Cyber Center in Augusta, Georgia. Spurred by the relocation of the U.S. Army Cyber Command to Augusta, the Georgia Cyber Center is a 300,000-square-foot, two-building center where federal, state, local, private and entrepreneurial entities have come together to address local, national and international cyber issues. It is also where students from Augusta College are gaining hands-on training and experience. As we were meeting with various groups that day, the consistent question was, “Why are you here given the many resources (cans of spinach) you have in Maryland? We would love to have started with those.”

This visit resonates the remainder of Moore’s quote – that Maryland is “strategy poor.” We need a clear strategy to leverage these assets, and while the governor’s team is developing that plan, my observation after our Georgia visit is that we also lack “hustle.” Oxford Dictionary says hustle is to “force someone to move hurriedly or unceremoniously in a specified direction.” Since we haven’t leveraged our strengths to move in a specific direction, our spinach has become our kryptonite.

We need a catalytic event like the U.S. Army Cyber Command moving to Georgia to create the hustle. I believe that could be making Maryland the home of cyberag – the intersection of cyber and the agricultural supply chain. Ensuring the safety and quality of our food and water from the farm and aquifers to our tables and glasses. Maryland has all the assets to make this our hustle – cyber, life sciences, agtech, autonomous vehicles, quantum, AI, and digital health – to name just a few.

Let’s do this so we can sing Popeye’s song: “We are strong to the finish, ’cause we eats our spinach.” As Maryland becomes a superpower, we can create our own mantra: “Our growth is sustainable ’cause our hustle is attainable.”

Source: Washington Business Journal