State poised for high-tech growth era

UB study finds region positioned for business expansion

`We have it all'

Infrastructure, universities, workers are noted as assets

Economic climate

April 21, 2000|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

Maryland has a definite high-tech future, according to a University of Baltimore study set for release today.

The report -- "Benchmarking Maryland's Business Climate and Socio-Economic Performance, 2000" -- is an exhaustive look at the strengths and weaknesses of the state's economy. Overall, the study presents an optimistic outlook for an economy that until just a few years ago had struggled to break free of the early 1990s recession.

"Maryland is finally capitalizing on its assets," said Richard Clinch, the lead researcher on the study and program manager for the Maryland Business Research Partnership, which underwrites projects such as this. "Taxes are ... actually falling in the next year. And we have a solid economic foundation with technology, universities, telecommunications and venture capital. We have it all."

Among its findings, the study found that Maryland:

Ranks seventh nationally in the amount of venture capital managed by firms within the state, and ninth nationally in the amount of venture capital invested within the state.

Ranks sixth nationally in the amount of money invested in research and development per capita and second in both federally and university performed R&D per capita.

Ranks 11th in the ratio of fiber-optic cable to old-fashioned copper lines, and second in the level of high-speed data channels per access line -- both key measures of broadband telecommunication that will allow faster adoption of new audio, video and data-stream Internet services.

Maryland has a highly educated work force that's among the nation's most productive and also one of the best at "adding value" to all it touches. The state has the third highest level of college graduates in its work force per capita and ranks in the same spot nationally for the number of Ph.D. scientists and engineers in the work force, the study found.

Having available capital, the hardwired infrastructure for Internet and telecommunications ventures, and workers with the specialized knowledge to design new generations of products and services is turning Maryland into a hotbed for technological development, Clinch said. That's probably a big reason the state ranks 16th in the country in new business starts. Clinch said the new technology ventures being started here tend to be smaller companies -- but firms with a very good shot at one day becoming much bigger.

Obstacles remain, however, and those potential roadblocks must be addressed if the state is to fully seize the opportunities it has before it, the report found.

For instance, real estate costs remain high, as do personal income taxes and labor costs. And while Maryland's assets will rate the state more than a passing look from a company looking for a new home, these high costs could prove detrimental in the final showdown with other states.

But not all the issues are as serious as they might seem, Clinch said. For instance, the higher labor costs may well be due to the skills and education Marylanders possess.

"You get what you pay for," Clinch said.

And while personal income taxes are high -- which might scare off a big-paycheck chief executive officer -- business taxes are actually quite reasonable, Clinch said.

The biggest obstacle Maryland faces is the same enemy it has faced for some time: perception. Maryland is not perceived as a business-friendly state, nor is it viewed as a state with high-tech assets.

But it does have a lot to offer, said Clinch, adding that the word has to get out so that high-tech companies elsewhere can see what Maryland has.

"Maryland is not marketing itself as well as it could," though it has improved on that score, too, Clinch said.

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