GBC council to showcase region's firms About 30 events are planned in area for 'Tech Month '97'

'A high-tech hotbed'

New jobs expected from expansion, start-up companies

High technology

September 29, 1997|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

In a small laboratory in downtown Baltimore, you'll find a handful of scientists hot on the trail of developing what could one day emerge as the first vaccine for genital herpes. A prevention for the viral affliction has stumped medical and biotechnology researchers for years.

The scientists are employed by entrepreneur Gary Calton and his start-up biotechnology firm AuRx Inc., which licensed the vaccine from the University of Maryland Medical Center and its inventor, Laure Aurelian, a professor of pharmacology.

It is venturesome technology companies like Calton's and their growing economic impact on the city and state that the Greater Baltimore Committee Technology Council, an arm of the public policy group, plans to showcase in October during its "high technology month," which kicks off today.

"A lot of people don't realize what a real hotbed the Baltimore area is becoming for high technology," said Jane Shaab, executive director of the technology council. "A lot of the firms already here are growing and there are dozens and dozens of small, new ones being started."

It has organized tonight's "Tech Night '97," a well-attended annual event showcasing many of the region's technology companies and their products.

The council also has helped organize about 30 technology-oriented events next month, from seminars on the emerging businesses of genomics and medical robotics to how to recruit top technology talent. Many are open to the public.

While many high-technology company executives in the region agree that the Baltimore-Washington area is seeing high-technology job growth from expansion and from start-ups such as AuRx, no one is certain how many technology sector jobs are being created or the sector's economic impact on the state.

The GBC Technology Council, the Maryland High Technology Council and the state Department of Business and Economic Development are attempting to plug the information gap. They hope to get a good picture of the multifaceted high-technology industry through a recently launched study.

The study is being done by Maryland Business Research Partnership, which operates out of the Jacob France Center at the University of Baltimore's Merrick School of Business.

The privately funded partnership is conducting the study under a $65,000 grant from the Department of Business and Economic Development. The study should be completed by December, Shaab said.

After reviewing the findings, the technology council hopes to follow up by compiling marketing and other resource guides for the industry, he said.

Richard Clinch, program manager at the business research partnership, which is underwritten by a number of large corporations including Lockheed Martin, said the Maryland high-tech sector is beginning to pick up steam after being hit hard by defense downsizing in the early and mid-1990s.

'Worst is long over'

"The worst is long over for high technology, and the underlying fundamentals are strong, stronger in my opinion than other big technology areas like Research Triangle in [North Carolina] and Boston," he said.

Technology companies experiencing the strongest growth now appear to be ones in the biosciences and government contracting fields, Clinch said.

He advocates state and other economic development leaders doing more to help existing technology firms grow and prosper, rather than focusing strictly on luring new firms to Maryland.

"Technology is where the state really needs to put its resources if it wants to see that industry grow," he said.

Mary Manning, a spokeswoman for the High Technology Council of Maryland, a Rockville-based trade group, said economic data generated by Clinch's study should help business groups and economic development groups target or improve resources.

"We need firm numbers on the growth and high tech's economic impact so state and other resources can be targeted to the right areas," Manning said.

Forecasts of growth

Calton at AuRx, which is also attempting to develop killed herpes viruses as locomotives or "vectors" to carry therapeutic genes to treat cancer and other diseases, is among those technology companies forecasting growth.

The firm, in the Bard Life Science Center at Baltimore City Community College and named with a bit of levity after the chemical elements symbol for gold (Au) and the abbreviation for prescription (Rx), expects its staff to grow from eight employees to about 25 in the next year.

Calton said it's not too difficult to figure out why the region is experiencing growth in venturesome technology outfits like his. He had looked into locating his company elsewhere, but chose this region for its resources and affordabil- ity.

"This area has a unique conjunction of good airports, a great concentration of libraries and top medical schools, and it's close the U.S. Patent Office and the National Institutes of Medicine," Calton said.

"For a technology venture like ours starting out," Calton said, "these are resources that are critical to staying on top of the science and growth."

Pub Date: 9/29/97

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