Md. economic data at fingertips M/Quest is unveiled as marketing tool

Economic development

April 07, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Maryland economic development information is going high-tech.

Yesterday, state officials unveiled M/Quest, a corporately funded, $1.5 million interactive marketing tool that will put a massive collection of the area's economic and demographic data at their fingertips so they can more easily sell the region to companies.

The database would give businesses immediate access to information such as the state's median income, property taxes, wages and statistics on the labor market, officials said.

"M/Quest pieces together disparate information with a Madison Avenue touch to it," said James T. Brady, secretary of the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

Brady unveiled the resource at a news conference yesterday in the downtown offices of the Maryland Communications Center, which will operate the database.

About half of the project's $1.5 million price tag has been raised from seven corporate investors. More corporate funding and possibly a state grant will make up the other half, said Pamela R. Jones, executive director of MCC, which supports marketing efforts by the state.

M/Quest will come online in phases:

A database that will allow the user to retrieve data will be available in July.

An Internet site geared toward the general public also will be unveiled in July.

An interactive multimedia application with a CD-ROM filled with videos, photos and state and county information will be available later this year.

An extranet site, protected by a password given only to economic development officials and business executives, will aid in keeping the database up to date. It will be available later this year.

"Economic development is a highly competitive game we're playing," said John Dillon, vice president of external affairs for Bell Atlantic Corp. "This is a great opportunity to promote Maryland's strengths."

MCC was chosen to house M/Quest despite challenges such as being short on operating funds and having an outdated technology base, Brady said. As part of the solution, DBED lined up seven investors: Allegheny Power Co., Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Bell Atlantic, CSX Transportation Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp., Piper & Marbury LLP and the Whiting-Turner Contracting Co.

BGE contributed $500,000, including $100,000 for the salary of its senior economic development expert, Roberta Dillow, whom the utility company lent to MCC to work on the project for a year.

"We see it as our corporate responsibility to take the lead in any job like this," said Christian H. Poindexter, BGE's chairman and chief executive. "This will create jobs and attract more business investment to the state."

During its field research, a team visited six other states -- Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and Pennsylvania -- that have economic development projects similar to M/Quest.

But the end result was modeled after an effort by Georgia Power Co. in Atlanta, Brady said.

In the 1960s, the utility company began developing a database of economic information. In 1986, it opened the Georgia Resource Center, which gathers marketing information for the state, said Sandy Page, the center's administrator.

It 1991, the center's technology was upgraded, and a web page was added so companies wouldn't have to travel to Georgia to use the database, Page said.

Pub Date: 4/07/98

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