Growing up on a farm in Jeollanam-do province, I never thought I would have the opportunity to meet with the president of South Korea. Indeed, it is difficult to describe what an honor it is for me — a first-generation Korean-American and the first Korean-American first lady in the United States — to meet with another “first”: the first female leader of Korea, President Park Geun-hye.
Ms. Park has impressed the world with her exemplary leadership. Her strength and resolve and her admiration for Margaret Thatcher have earned her the nickname the “Iron Lady of South Korea.” Political confrontations, no matter how pointed and personal, have little impact on her, for she has been the victim of real attacks. But Ms. Park is a fighter and a symbol of hope in a country that is still making strides in terms of gender equality. She was named the world’s 11th most powerful woman by Forbes magazine in 2013 and 2014 — a well-deserved recognition.
We in Maryland are especially grateful that, despite her many demands back home, Ms. Park kept her promise to visit the United States and meet President Obama on topics of concern to both of our nations: economic development, technology and the many challenges that North Korea presents to both of our countries.
Ms. Park and I had the pleasure of touring NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. We marveled at the center’s space artifacts and its innovative, exciting and unique projects that help make America’s space program the greatest in the world.
The Goddard Space Flight Center is a testament to what dreamers can do with hard work, technology and opportunity. The center is truly a “window to the future.” I hope that the time I spent with Ms. Park will also offer a glimpse into a future of cooperation, friendship, and economic, technological and cultural opportunities between the United States and South Korea.
The relationship between the U.S. and Korea will always be special, but the relationship between Maryland and Korea is special as well. Maryland is home to at least 11 companies with headquarters in Korea. Over 45,000 Korean-Americans call Maryland home, and Montgomery County has one of the highest concentrations of Korean speakers in the entire country.
It was with the knowledge of this special relationship that I joined Gov. Larry Hogan on a trade mission to South Korea in May to illustrate what Maryland has to offer, and to explain why the United States, and Maryland in particular, is a great place to strengthen our cultural and economic ties. During the trip, we articulated how Maryland is not just one of many options for companies that are considering North American investments. It is the only option on the East Coast of the United States for companies that want access to an educated workforce, world-class infrastructure and transportation, and a business-friendly environment.
Maryland companies are already investing in South Korea and are actively looking for growth opportunities there. Mr. Hogan has spent almost his entire professional life in the private sector running small businesses. He understands firsthand the challenges that business leaders face, just as he understands the many advantages Maryland has to offer the international business community.
Our mission to South Korea has also helped open doors and forge relationships between our respective institutions of higher education. A great example is the University of Maryland-Baltimore and Ajou University joining together and working toward developing best practices for pharmaceutical regulations. Additionally, the Korean American Society in Biotech and Pharmaceuticals is planning to conduct a conference in Maryland this fall.
Joining Ms. Park for her visit are representatives from over 160 companies, many of whom will have the opportunity to see firsthand that our state is home to some of America’s hardest-working and most-educated people. We rank first in percentage of doctoral scientists and engineers in the workforce and fourth among all 50 states in percentage of technology jobs in the private sector alone. We are home to world-class universities and colleges such as the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University — giving us one of America’s most highly skilled workforces.
Korea and the United States have a strong business partnership, and here in Maryland we want those ties to be even stronger, and go even deeper. Our shared history, intertwined economies and deep cultural ties must be celebrated and encouraged, and I thank Ms. Park for her commitment to strengthen the ties that bind us to one another.
• Yumi Hogan is the first lady of Maryland.
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