Maryland's edge

July 04, 2005

BRAGGING IS unseemly, but in this case New Jersey asked for it.

Fighting the Pentagon's latest base-closing proposals - one of which would shift about 2,200 high-tech jobs from New Jersey's Fort Monmouth to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County - officials in the Garden State have asserted that the military won't find enough highly trained workers in Maryland.

With all due respect to New Jersey - which, after all, has its strengths - those are ludicrous grounds on which to argue against the move to Aberdeen.

Maryland arguably has the most highly educated work force in the nation, particularly for science and technology. Indeed, Maryland may well be the best-educated jurisdiction of its size in the world.

Among all states, it's tied with Massachusetts for the highest percentage of bachelor's-degree holders. It's second in graduate- and professional-degree holders, doctoral scientists and engineers. In line with that, Maryland ranks first in professional and technical workers, who make up almost a quarter of the state's entire work force (24 percent vs. 21.4 percent in New Jersey).

With all this talent, Maryland ranks fourth - behind Massachusetts, California and Colorado - on the Milken Institute's latest State Technology and Science Index. (New Jersey stands seventh, by the way.)

As local economic consultant Anirban Basu puts it: "Maryland is among a handful of elite states. To go after Maryland for its lack of human capital is a bit like going after New York City for not having tall buildings."

The larger point here is that though such economic losses as the recent closing of General Motors' Baltimore plant are taken hard, Maryland's economic future deservedly hinges on the cutting edges of science and technology.

And while this state is properly known for its growing biotech pursuits, the Pentagon's recent base-closing proposals - under which Maryland would be the only state to gain military jobs - underscore that defense and national security research are a big part of its high-tech future.

Doubters need look no further than the big Battelle technology center in Aberdeen, the explosive growth around the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Southern Maryland and the complex of contractors thriving off the National Security Agency at Fort Meade - which reportedly will gain some 10,000 jobs over the next seven years (dwarfing the state's net gain of about 6,600 jobs from the base-closings plan).

Proximity to Washington, of course, plays a big role in this. But only a highly educated work force can make the most of it. And that is precisely Maryland's edge.

Take that, New Jersey.

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