Entire region is his crusade Morino envisions future in cyberspace

July 14, 1996|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

When computer software millionaire Mario Morino looks at the Baltimore-Washington and Northern Virginia area, he sees a region whose future economic growth won't be anchored in the federal government, defense contracts or shipments flowing through the port of Baltimore.

Economic growth for the region, preaches the Great Falls, Va., resident, will be found in cyberspace, of all places.

"No other region in the world," he intones "is as well positioned as this one to be the center of Internet-based business activity. The brain power and financial capital to make it happen are already here."

While that may be debatable, one thing is certain:

Morino, who last year sold Legent, a Herndon, Va.-based computer software company he co-founded to industry rival Computer Associates for $1.8 billion, is so sold on the belief that information-based businesses herald the future for a strong regional economy that he's embarked on a crusade. Its mission: ensure that the region emerges as the world's undisputed Internet-based, or "Net-centric," business capital of the globe.

To that end, the 52-year-old has put together a nonprofit group, the Potomac KnowledgeWay Project, and assembled a board of directors for it. It's made up largely of Washington and Northern Virginia business heavies, though recently several Maryland leaders were appointed to marshal the effort on.

The crusade rolled into Baltimore Friday to outline its plans to the technology council of the Greater Baltimore Committee, which wants to make sure that Baltimore doesn't miss out.

Morino is bullish on getting Baltimore and the rest of Maryland into the act because he believes his crusade must be a regional venture built on cooperation between Maryland and Virginia -- long-standing rivals when it comes to economic growth.

Unless there is regional cooperation on the project, he frets, Internet-related ventures in the area won't get the cooperative .. regional legislative and financial support needed so they can thrive and spawn other Net-centric business activities.

"I tell people this is sort of like the saying about a coral reef," Morino says. "You can't create one. But you sure can nurture it or kill it."

To nurture the growth of Internet-oriented ventures, the group's plans include:

A drive to increase awareness in the region of the Internet and its vast array of uses, and building a consensus for legislative, educational and other action that could advance the area as a hub for Internet-related activity and ventures.

A program to support and link Net-based entrepreneurs with financial and business experts to ensure their ventures fly. A key element of this effort is the project's site on the World Wide Web, http: //www.KnowledgeWay.org. The site is aimed at making it easy for Net-centric entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and others to share ideas and form alliances.

A program to promote training and educating the region's work force in the potential and uses of the Internet and other emerging interactive communication networks.

An effort to promote building an online regional "infrastructure" offering citizens access to everything from elected officials and legislative information to health information from area experts.

George Gingerelli, a technology and management consultant who helped draft the KnowledgeWay plan, says the area already is a bubbling caldron of Internet-related business activity.

These range from UUNET, a Fairfax-based Internet access provider that was recently sold for $2 billion, to tiny Web Connection, a Owings Mills-based start-up offering Web site design and marketing advice.

Gingerelli says the KnowledgeWay Project hasn't yet been able to tabulate any hard numbers on how many jobs in the region are Internet/communications-oriented.

But he says a good guess is "in the tens of thousands -- and growing at a rapid pace."

"Historically, this region has been dominated by defense and federal government contractors, and real estate expansion," says Gingerelli, founder of GMG Enterprises Inc, a technology and management consulting firm. "But, because of downsizing in those industries, the region's economy is changing to one based more and more on technology and communications."

This emerging techno-communications economy, Gingerelli argues, needs to be recognized and given the proper educational, financial and legislative support or there's a risk it will shift to another, more welcoming region.

Key elements, he says, for the right recipe for success: techno-savvy workers and communities and institutions that are connected to the Net.

Elements such as these, he says, will go a long way toward making emerging companies feel welcome in this region. And there are other potential suitors out there, Gingerelli warns, from San Antonio, Texas, to Bilbao, Spain, where the value of the Internet and the business activity it will spawn are already widely recognized and supported.

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