Maryland's future is information

October 22, 1997|By William E. Kirwan

IMAGINE Maryland as the hub of the nation's most successful information-technology economy. Picture the corridor down Interestate 95 from Baltimore to Washington and around Interstate 495 through Northern Virginia as the new Silicon Valley of the Information Age.

If the region's public and private-sector leaders rally around such a vision, it could assure Maryland's economic well-being far into the 21st century.

The primary driver of the nation's economy for at least the next several decades will be information technology. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by the year 2005 those kinds of jobs will almost double.

Companies that store, retrieve or disseminate information will be our nation's dominant businesses, and rapid access to knowledge will be our nation's most important product.

Competition for global leadership in the information-technology-based economy will be fierce among our nation's major metropolitan regions because if offers the holy grail of economic development.

It's environmentally clean, labor-intensive and dependent on a highly skilled workforce. Only regions with certain intrinsic advantages have a chance to achieve a leadership role in this economy. Fortunately, we are one of these.

First, our region is a world leader in data base development and management. Everything people want is, to a large extent, located within 15 miles of the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

Data bases

From the Library of Congress to the National Archives in College Park, to the National Library of Medicine, to the Human Genome Project database at Johns Hopkins, our region is the world repository of an overwhelming amount of data and information.

Second, we have federal installations operating on the cutting edge of information networking, storage, retrieval and dissemination.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is the primary source of data about the Earth's environment. The National Institute of Standards and Technology develops what are, in effect, international technological protocols. The National Security Agency operates the world's most advanced telecommunications network.

The presence of such federal laboratories has already attracted large numbers of "knowledge workers" and information technology businesses to our region.

Third, our region is home to an impressive number of leading information companies such as Lockheed Martin, Tracor, SAIC, Bell Atlantic-Maryland, the Computer Sciences Corp., Hughes Network Systems, and COMSAT. Northern Virginia is awash in leading companies in computer networking and Internet applications. Maryland is rich in such firms, such as Timonium-based Riparius Ventures, an innovator in Internet telephone technology, Linthicum's Siena Corp., Digex in Beltsville and Yurie Systems in Lanham.

Finally, our region has outstanding academic programs that fuel the information age economy.

Top programs

The University of Maryland, College Park, has top-rated programs in computer science, electrical engineering and telecommunications. The Johns Hopkins University and UMCP are outstanding engineering colleges. The University of

Maryland, Baltimore, and Johns Hopkins are world leaders in telemedicine, an area certain to spawn considerable economic activity in the future.

But we are in a fiercely competitive race against other regions. Realizing our potential is far from certain. In fact, one might even call it a long shot. Success will require that, as a region, we take several steps and soon.

We need to understand the opportunity we have. This is perhaps the most difficult of all of our challenges.

The state's Strategic Economic Development Plan, recently released by the Department of Business and Economic Development, is a big step in the right direction. It identifies many of Maryland's strengths in information technology and offers some cogent strategies for future economic growth. This document needs wide dispersion and broad support.

We must build an information technology infrastructure that can support an Information Age economy. Maryland's infrastructure is falling behind that of many other states. We need high-speed, fiber-optic links connecting our counties and major communities and we need them now.

Through a remarkable public/private sector initiative called Smart Valley, the Silicon Valley region is well on its way to creating precisely the kind of advanced information infrastructure and connectivity we need. We should emulate this effort.

We also need a focused economic development strategy that supports information companies. We need a marketing campaign that lets the world know the phenomenal assets we have, as well as our intention to become a mecca for Information Age companies.

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