Md., 3 nearby states unite in seeking deals

Conference on Wed. to drum up contracts

March 30, 2002|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

With its measly little 10-member delegation in Congress, Maryland could never hope to wrest some of the government's $80 billion in research and development money away from, say, California and its 54 representatives and senators.

New Jersey, with 15 members, wouldn't fare much better. Even Pennsylvania pales, with 23. And forget poor Delaware, with its delegation of three.

But a group of area politicians and business people figure they have a certain way to turn those mid-Atlantic states into formidable political and economic forces - by making them work, and vote, as one.

About 800 representatives from regional technology businesses, academic institutions and government agencies will gather in Baltimore beginning Wednesday for a two-day conference designed to ignite such cross-border cooperation.

The TechTrends conference was conjured up by groups of senators and representatives from the area, particularly Pennsylvania Rep. Curt Weldon, whose district sits where the four states nearly converge. Its goal is to make a collective grab for the federal government's research and development funds - and all of the jobs and economic growth that naturally follows.

The conference is sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association, a trade group, and attendance is heavy with defense contractors, military agencies weapons laboratories. But organizers say its reach is much broader, and includes biotechnology, transportation, telecommunications, energy - anything where a collaboration of science, technology and business might draw federal research funds to the area.

"The University of Maryland might not know about opportunities with businesses in Pennsylvania, or a business in Delaware might not know about research in New Jersey," said Lisa Wright, a spokeswoman for Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican who will address the conference Wednesday morning.

"If we combine our efforts, if we combine our resources instead of working against each other, the whole region benefits."

The top defense contractors will be there - such as Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Boeing Co. So will representatives from government research installations, including Aberdeen Proving Ground and the Naval Surface Warfare Center.

This year's gathering will be the third TechTrends conference, and the first with homeland defense a common theme. Environmental Technologies Group Inc. in Towson will be there, to talk about its products for detecting biological and chemical hazards. So will PlasmaSol Corp., a New Jersey company developing products to destroy such contaminants.

Participants can mingle with exhibitors as varied and disparate as the Pennsylvania-Russia Business Council and the United Soybean Board, a mix that organizers hope can bring more technology business to the area.

"We really need to cooperate and not be provincial in our outlook," said James A. Donahue, chairman of the group planning the Tech- Trends conference. "With cooperation we can get more funding, more technically oriented jobs and ultimately an advancement of the state of the art of that technology in the area."

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