Biotechnology job growth slight

April 08, 1995|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Department of Economic and Employment DevelopmentSun Staff Writer

The state's half-billion dollar investment in biotechnology has been slow to pay off in jobs, a new University of Baltimore study says, but the report's lead author says Maryland should stick with its strategy of investing in a sector that could form a cornerstone of its 21st-century economy.

"This dictates that we do what we are doing, but it also dictates that we question whether it is worth the money," said Michael A. Conte, director of the university's Regional Economic Studies Program. "I think it is."

Mr. Conte, who co-wrote the study with two other University of Baltimore researchers, acknowledges that high-tech manufacturing, and especially biotechnology, have been slow to generate jobs. This is true in spite of Maryland's heavy concentration of scientists and technically proficient workers, the largest percentage of whom work in computer and data services.

Overall, only 7 percent of Maryland's 2.1 million workers work in high-tech industries, Mr. Conte said. That is marginally higher than the national average. The good news is that the jobs pay an average of $853 a week, much better than the $526-a-week average in the state's overall economy.

The technology jobs are concentrated in the Washington suburbs and Southern Maryland, Mr. Conte said. The Eastern Shore, Baltimore and Western Maryland are well below-average in high-tech employment, and Baltimore County is right about at the national average, Mr. Conte said.

Only 4,500 workers are involved in biotechnology research, and just 3,400 are in drug manufacturing. Despite the state's efforts to encourage biotechnology, the lengthy process of inventing new drugs means that major employment gains are still a few years off, when the new drugs could be ready for market, Mr. Conte said.

"For every successful product manufactured here, we can increase biotechnology employment by 20 to 25 percent," Mr. Conte said.

But he said Maryland will have to compete to convince its biotech companies to keep their manufacturing facilities here.

Indeed, biotechnology companies such as Martek Biosciences Corp. of Columbia and Medimmune Inc. of Gaithersburg have recently agreed to buy or build manufacturing sites in other states.

He said one key should be the Maryland Bioprocessing Center, a state-funded Baltimore facility designed to allow small biotech companies to share manufacturing facilities and cut early production costs, but said the center's opening is behind schedule.

"We have got to significantly increase our market share in biotech," Mr. Conte said. "There is only one way we are going to do that -- to make this someplace where biotech happens. Natural growth ain't going to cut it."

The state has invested about $500 million in biotechnology-related facilities, he said, including the Christopher Columbus Center, the bioprocessing center, and additions to hospitals controlled by the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Research Campus in Catonsville.

THE HOT SPOTS

Maryland's top five technology areas, ranked by percentage of county employment in high-tech jobs:

County .. .. .. .. ..% high tech

Mary's .. .. .. .. .. .14.52

Montgomery .. .. .. .. .. .12.61

Howard .. .. .. .. .. .. ..12.41

Anne Arundel .. .. .. .. ...9.08

Prince George's .. .. .. ...7.58

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