GBC's planting high-tech seeds all month

October 03, 1994|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Sun Staff Writer

From groundbreaking for a new $22 million bioprocessing center at Johns Hopkins University to a seminar on "Ice Storage: Cooling for the Future" -- it's all technology and it's all part of this month's celebration of Maryland's high-tech businesses and research.

The Greater Baltimore Committee has scheduled 53 events during October, its fifth annual "Tech Month," triple last year's offering.

The aim of everything from tonight's kickoff dinner to an Oct. 27 trade show for Maryland's five technology business incubators is to promote the creation of more high-tech businesses and jobs, said Victor Hos- kins, executive director of the GBC's technology council.

And the events -- which will include tomorrow's free admission to the Maryland Science Center at the Inner Harbor -- are designed to get all Marylanders excited about technology, he said.

Even a tour of the big cranes at Baltimore's Seagirt ship loading terminal is part of the promotion.

"That is high tech. That is no common loading dock," Mr. Hoskins said. "We have got to get the public involved in this. . . . Let's get rid of the phobia" of technology, he said.

All the hoopla comes at a bittersweet time for the sector, which is still reeling from defense cuts and recession that eliminated thousands of high-tech jobs.

High-technology employment in Maryland fell to 136,250 in 1993, down from a peak of 151,272 in 1989, according to an Ernst & Young study.

Over the same period, the Baltimore area's push to develop a significant biotechnology sector also has run into trouble.

The city's most promising biotech company, Nova Pharmaceutical Co., was acquired by Scios Inc. last year.

And last month the parent company permanently closed its Baltimore drug research lab with 63 workers and moved the work to Scios' Mountain View, Calif., facilities.

But a spinoff of Nova, Guilford Pharmaceuticals Inc. has been growing, said company President Craig R. Smith. Boosted by a state investment of $250,000 -- Maryland's first ever in a private company -- Guilford has grown from six to 24 employees so far this year, and hopes to start marketing its first product -- a brain cancer drug -- sometime next year.

Many of this year's events aren't new, but have been rescheduled to fit in with Tech Month, or have been included in the GBC's listing for the first time, Mr. Hoskins said.

This year, for the first time, the events have branched out to all parts of the state -- from Rockville to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, said J. C. Weiss, principal of a venture capital firm and chairman of the technology council.

"Maryland is a small state. It can't just be Baltimore. . . . The high-tech community doesn't see political boundaries," Mr. Weiss said.

In addition, the GBC is trying to include all different kinds of technologies, not just the biotechnology that often grabs headlines, he said.

Some biotechnology fans will be attempting to grab headlines, though.

Mayo A. Shattuck III, president of Alex. Brown & Sons, and chairman of the Christopher Columbus Center for Marine Biotechnology, said he'll be using the publicity to help raise private donations for the $160 million center, which is under construction on Pratt Street.

Mr. Shattuck, who announced the kickoff of a $20 million fund-raising campaign last month, said on Friday that he hopes to announce some large contributions during October.

"This is a landmark. . . . It is going to be an important part of this city," Mr. Shattuck said of the Columbus Center.

While some of the GBC's enthusiasm may be overblown, economists say that technology investments could be key to Maryland's future.

"The thing that is important to realize is that we have lost a lot of our traditional economic bases. We've lost a significant portion of our manufacturing, lost a lot of our banking and are essentially losing a lot of insurance" jobs, said Michael A. Conte, director of the University of Baltimore's regional economic studies program.

But the cuts that contributed to the sector's decline can be recouped by investments in new technologies, he said.

"We have to lay claim to some area. . . . And technology is truly the export product of the future," he said.

The GBC's boosterism hasn't turned Baltimore or Maryland into a high-tech beehive.

"Outside of Maryland, if you talk about Baltimore as a technology center, all you get are blank stares," Dr. Conte said. "But as as LTC long as you keep having technology month, and you get people thinking about it and talking about it. . . . It is the seed from which a tree can grow."

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