March 19, 2011

It's a complicated premise: establishing a public-private partnership by which insurance companies bid on tax credits to generate a $100 million investment in start-up and early stage companies -- but one with incredible promise. For Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), InvestMaryland's goal is simple -- it's about the continued cultivation of biotech, clean/green tech, cybersecurity, life sciences and information technology jobs for long-term economic gain.

While the Milken Institute recently ranked Maryland second in the nation for technology and science assets and gave it high rankings in other areas, our state lagged behind other states in risk capital and entrepreneurial infrastructure. In essence, we lack the vehicle for investing in the industries of tomorrow, what the O'Malley administration terms “innovation economy.” We lack a vehicle for change.

InvestMaryland seeks to pioneer a stronger economy by injecting a larger degree of capital into forecasted growth industries at no immediate cost to Maryland taxpayers. At our state's current level of limited funding capital, many Maryland companies may choose to move to other states or close altogether, and thousands of our workers may miss out on the opportunity to excel in a growth industry career. To continue down this path severely limits our economic vitality and weakens our workforce.

Granted, Maryland has fared better than other states in terms of economic recovery. Maryland enjoys a AAA bond rating and a financially “stable outlook” according to Standard & Poor's. But for all that we have accomplished as a state persevering through challenging times, we cannot say that Maryland has remained unaffected by the national economic decline. While Maryland is bouncing back (as evidenced by our lower than average unemployment rate), many Marylanders are continuing to seek gainful employment and/or working as part of the state's underemployed population. There is still a significant need for a long-term business development agenda that promotes job creation.

InvestMaryland holds promise as that agenda, and it makes practical sense in terms of developing our labor force. According to Jim Jaffe, president and chief executive of the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds, an organization of private, public and nonprofit organizations of which Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development and the Technology Development Corp. are members, “As many studies have shown, start-up companies are the best and most economically efficient creator of new employment opportunities.”

InvestMaryland offers the potential to create a variety of jobs, from highly skilled to low-level positions. Although much attention has been paid to InvestMaryland's predicted creation of thousands of high-paying jobs, there remains the possibility for the subsequent hiring of thousands of direct and ancillary mid- to lower-level positions. For example, as biotech, clean/green tech, cybersecurity, life sciences and IT companies set up and expand their operations, we could easily foresee the need for research assistant, technician, clean room supervisor, engineering aide, administrative assistant, office manager, marketing specialist and payroll assistant positions, among others.

As the InvestMaryland legislation begins to make its way through the Maryland House and Senate, we can only hope that InvestMaryland's true promise for Marylanders -- sustainable job creation -- remains the foremost topic of dialogue for Maryland lawmakers and the business community.

Andy Moser is the president and chief executive of the Maryland Workforce Corp.

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