Julie Coons, the president of the Technology Council of Maryland, was online to answer your questions about the organization and the region's technology community.
A transcript follows.
(Coutesy Technology Council of Maryland)
Coons was named TCM president in October. She is a former executive vice president of PCIA -- The Wireless Infrastructure Association. She has also held positions at Encirq, Teligent and Iridium LLC.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Julie, thanks for joining us. What was it about this position that attracted you to it?
Julie Coons: First, thank you for the opportunity to talk to a wide audience interested in technology in this region and specifically in Maryland. The Technology Council of Maryland is a vibrant, active force in supporting and expanding the growth of technology companies and jobs in the region. The Council and its members offer an amazing number and diversity of educational and networking opportunities through the state. In addition the Council partners with regional organizations to expand knowledge and industry learning. The Council is also the only statewide voice for Maryland technology companies at the State House in Annapolis and with State executive branch agencies. I was excited by the opportunity to support and advocate on behalf of the State's leading technology corporate entities and non-profit organizations.
What are some incentives that MD can use to attract more tech. businesses? What's behind the boom in Northern VA or the I-270 corridor?
Julie Coons: Maryland has benefitted greatly from a highly educated workforce (the second highest concentration of doctoral scientists and engineers among all states); it has also benefitted from a significant level of federal research dollars (Maryland ranks second in total federal research dollar obligations). But it is important for the technology community to not rest on its laurels, but look to the future. To that end, the Technology Council of Maryland is advocating for research and development tax credits, as well as tax credits for Maryland investors investing in Maryland biotechnology companies. The Council also is concerned with future growth challenges in the region and thus supports the development of the Inter-County Connector.
What's the outlook for telecom firms in Maryland? Can the area around Columbia bounce back?
Julie Coons: The outlook for telecom firms in general has brightened significantly as major cellular carriers have increased capital investment over the past 6 quarters. Clearly there are challenges associated with carrier consolidation, but I believe that the opportunities for companies that support carrier network expansion, redundancy and service quality are quite significant. As we all know, net sub adds continue to increase with manageable levels of churn. This puts significant pressure on carriers to continue to support the large and growing customer base - and I think is quite positive for telecom firms. Even the small but significant percentage of individuals who are abandoning their landline phones pose interesting positive trends for the industry.
Rockville, Md. :
What's your opinion of the state's biotech firms? How long can they keep reporting losses? Will that area be your focus going forward?
Julie Coons: I am very excited about the diversity and sophistication of the State's biotech industry. Biotech is clearly a long-term investment and in relative terms the State's life sciences industry is still young. The lifecycle of a biotech firm anticipates a longer term development phase that will show losses. The investment community clearly understands this business life cycle and continues to support the development of the industry. We are starting to see a number of companies generate profits and we anticipate that number to rise.
The Technology Council of Maryland represents many of the leading biotechnology companies in the State. The Council also represents a vibrant community of advanced technology and IT organizations. Our focus is to represent the entire technology community to find solutions to business challenges and support a broadly profitable, successful technology industry in Maryland.
Silver Spring, Md.:
The state's technology incubator fund continues to trickle out small grants in the $50,000 to $200,000 range. While I'm sure those investments are helping the entrepreneurs involved, wouldn't Maryland get a bigger payoff if it made a handful of targeted, big-ticket investments in the range of $1-5 million?
Julie Coons: The Council strongly supports the State's efforts to provide seed funding to a broad array of technology companies in Maryland. The State has had a number of significant successes in this area that otherwise would have had trouble reaching fruition. The $1-5 M funding levels generally are those that are supported by private investors (VCs, other institutional investors) as opposed to State funds.
Do you see Frederick emerging as a more dominant center of technology in the next several years? What might be the factors involved, either pro or con?
Julie Coons: Many of the counties beyond suburban Maryland and Baltimore are seeing significant growth in technology companies through both new company establishment and existing corporate expansion. Frederick County among others has been a beneficiary of this trend. A number of factors are influencing this including the expansion of and investment in Fort Detrick; a favorable commercial real estate environment and an agressive plan by the County Commissioners and the County's economic development office to attract new and expanded investment. We see these trends continuing and are excited about the positive impact on the State's overall technology community.
I'm worried about the lack of Maryland students opting for careers in science and engineering. I suggest that the tech council invest more of its money into funding scholarships for Maryland kids so that we have future leaders in technology.
Julie Coons: The Council has a long history of supporting higher educational programs in the State. Many of the Council's members and supporters are educational and research institutions. Currently the Council's IT and Advanced Technology companies are focused on making a number of Council programs available to students in relevant fields. It is clearly a Council priority. In the coming year, the Council will work with State leaders to develop a scholarship program for undergraduate and graduate level students in science and technology disciplines.
When I look at Virginia, I see a state that has been fairly successful at spreading technology jobs throughout its geographic regions. The heart of its tech sector is in NoVa, but there are strong technology clusters developing around Virginia Tech, U.Va., Richmond and Hampton Roads.
The same geographic spread seems to be missing in Maryland, where the 270 corridor is the dominant player. No one talks about technology in Baltimore these days the way they did 5 years ago.
What is your group doing to "spread the wealth" around our state?
Julie Coons: The Council's membership is comprised of companies and organizations from across the State of Maryland. With the expansion of federal research dollars and federal investment across the State there are corresponding new companies and many who are increasing their existing investments. There is also a good regional distribution of incubators across the State which supports this geographic diversity of the industry. We see vibrant companies in all regions of the State and Baltimore in particular is quite active.
Why isn't there more high tech growth in PG County? There's plenty of land, the roads are not clogged, and there's plenty of housing. There aren't any major corporations near my neck of the woods except for maybe CSC in New Carrollton.
Julie Coons: The Council has a very active network in Prince George's County. In addition to CSC, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, and Hewlett Packard -among others- have a significant presence in the County. At the same time, there continue to be opportunities for growth within the County and the Council through its Prince Georges' County network is active in meeting with business and government leaders to ensure the continued growth of technology in the County.
Julie, good morning. Thanks for doing this Web chat. Here's my question: I'm concerned that Maryland is putting all its eggs in the biotech basket. Biotech has the potential for huge payoffs, but unlike other IT sectors, biotech doesn't produce huge numbers of jobs, and the path to payoff is very, very long. Look at HGS, Celera and the other big biotech firms in our state. Few are making any money or have prospects for making money in the near term. Look across the river at Virginia, and they're focus on government IT jobs and telecom has produced thousands of jobs for the region. Your thoughts?
Julie Coons: Maryland has been quite successful in diversifying its range of technology companies. While there is a nationally recognized concentration of biotechnology companies in the State, there is a vibrant advanced technology and IT corporate and not-for-profit community. The Council's membership represents this diversity of companies and its advanced technology and IT membership is very active in provide programs and networking opportunities. Much like their corporate brethren in Virginia, they have a strong focus on government procurement opportunities.
Julie - thanks for taking time to answer reader questions. Any parting thoughts regarding your focus going into 2005?
Julie Coons: We anticipate 2005 to be an exciting year for technology companies in Maryland. The Council's members are very excited about the business opportunities from federal procurement dollars, State government dollars and the increasing collaboration of the biotechnology community in drawing national investment to the region. The Council's programs and opportunities reflect this optimism. A range of economic indicators show a positive corporate outlook and we at the Council will foster this through programming and in communicating these positive developments with the State's elected and appointed officials. The Council looks forward to supporting our members and partners in achieving their goals in 2005. Thank you for the opportunity to share with you today.