Md. Offers Benefits For High-tech Firms

January 20, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

The state Department of Economic and Employment Development yesterday unveiled its package of tax cuts, worker training funding and and other legislative initiatives that it hopes will bolster high-tech businesses and improve the quality of Maryland workers.

"The work force has to keep pace," said Mark L. Wasserman, secretary of the department. "The sales and use tax must keep pace with manufacturing processes."

Mr. Wasserman made his comments at a news conference at one of the state's largest manufacturing facilities, Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant. The steel company used the occasion to tout its recent achievement of meeting important international quality-management standards -- the first such certification of a U.S. integrated steel mill. An integrated mill produces finished steel products from raw materials, as opposed to using scrap metal.

Last year, the Department of Economic and Employment Development steered a variety of tax breaks through the state General Assembly, making it cheaper for high-tech firms to operate in Maryland. "The response has been very favorable," Mr. Wasserman said about the earlier changes. "It sent the right message."

The new changes would:

* Exempt from sales and use taxes for energy those costs associated with the operation of "clean rooms" in the biotechnology field. These rooms, where air is kept free from contamination, are crucial for biotechnology companies.

* Classify repair or servicing of production equipment as manufacturing. This would exempt the work from sales and use taxes.

* Increase funding for two training programs by $1.2 million. The two programs are the Partnership for Workforce Quality, which finances programs to train current workers, and the Maryland Industrial Training Programs, which provides money for training new workers for companies that are moving to Maryland.

Mr. Wasserman said the cost of the proposed tax breaks for the state has not been calculated but would be less than $1 million.

Mr. Wasserman also announced that state Sen. William H. Amoss, D-Harford, will introduce a bill to convert the 18-month-old Manufacturing Advisory Committee -- an ad hoc group of 40 manufacturers, educators, labor leaders, legislators and other people that makes recommendations on manufacturing -- to the Commission on Manufacturing Competitiveness, a permanent group.

William A. Fogle Jr., secretary of licensing and regulation, who was also at the news conference, said he will seek money to increase from eight to 31 the number of free state consultants to businesses. These consultants tell businesses if they are in violation of state safety regulations but do not fine them. The money for these workers comes from the federal government and a portion of the premium that companies pay for workers' compensation, Mr. Fogle said.

Besides training workers and changing tax laws, Mr. Wasserman said, the state is encouraging companies to meet new international standards collectively known as ISO 9000. These standards, used by European companies, require companies to meet certain quality levels and maintain records on how they are achieved.

"It's kind of like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for manufacturers," Mr. Wasserman said. "We are promoting it."

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