In trumpeting his new biotechnology initiative last week, Gov. Martin O'Malley used the word "leverage" eight times to describe the nine-point plan. Clearly, a governor proposing a new, billion-dollar program during a time of fiscal austerity wants Marylanders to see this spending as an investment - one expected to produce a healthy return.
He makes a strong case: If figures from the state Department of Business and Economic Development are correct, the state's $1.1 billion commitment will attract an estimated $6.3 billion in federal and private-sector money. It also stands to solidify Maryland's position as a premier location for one of this young century's most exciting industries.
The costliest items in Mr. O'Malley's 10-year plan include a major increase in biotech tax credits ($222 million), higher funding for capital projects in life sciences at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute and elsewhere ($300 million), and a steady commitment to stem cell research ($219 million).
Mr. O'Malley would also create a Maryland Biotechnology Center as a kind of clearinghouse for state entrepreneurs in the field; provide venture capital for promising companies; and increase support for innovative tech incubators like the one in College Park where Zymetis Inc. is discovering how enzymes found in the Chesapeake Bay can turn waste paper into vehicle fuel. And by infusing a modest $107 million over a decade into helping universities and labs get their innovations to market, the state believes it can generate an astonishing $3.75 billion in private and federal investment.
With its world-class science institutions, proximity to the federal government, and hundreds of up-and-running biotech companies, few states are better positioned than Maryland to capitalize on the booming biotech field. A billion dollars is certainly not chump change, but by spreading it out over 10 years and allocating initially small amounts that will rise slowly over time, Mr. O'Malley appears to have found a way to minimize the fiscal pain of this plan.
It is sensible to make a modest investment to encourage growth in such an important industry - one that currently employs about 1 percent of Marylanders but is destined to increase that number exponentially in the near future.