In April a band of Maryland state officials led by Gov. Harry Hughes will swoop down on the Silicon Valley of California in a carefully planned raid on the electronics industry, calculated to lure some of the fastest growing businesses in the nation from their western stronghold.
The Silicon Valley, north of San Francisco and near San Jose, is the home of the semiconductor industry -- the people who put lttle green digits on your watches, calculators, in your pockets, robots under your Christmas trees amd computers on your desks.
It's the place on the map of the United States where Maryland's economic planners have stuck their red and where they are focusing their hopes for a major addition to the state's manufacturing base.
While state empolyees are at work on a four-color brochure and a slide show explaining Maryland's allure, a consultant in California is at work looking for leads. The culmination of all this effort will be the April Silicon Valley raid, led by Hughes and Maryland's secretary for economic and community development, James O. Roberson, who will be accompanied by local business officials.
What Maryland is selling is bodies. To an industry now desparate for enough scientists, engineers and highly trained technicians to keep up with rapidly expanding demand, Maryland offers a large and well-suited labor pool, according to state officials.
"The number of scientists in Maryland -- particularly in the Washington area -- is the greatest concentration in the world," said Roberson. State figures estimate approximately 300,000 more employes available to the industry in Maryland than in the Silicon Valley.
Out of such claims and statistics, Maryland officials have projected a dream world called the SciCom complex, a ribbon of electronics and data-processing industries along the Interstate 270 corridor that are fed a steady diet of trained workers from the University of Maryland. The enthusiastic predictions of the planners is that the University of Maryland a few years from now will rival Stanford or MIT.
"What's happening in a movement of high-class professional people of all sorts into the Washington area," said P. P. Frucht, director of research for the Department of Economic and Community Development.Frucht's vision of the future includes the Washington area as the financial capital of the United States and an electronics complex made up of the software firms that are already here augmented by the hardware firms and electronics users the state hopes to attract. Electronics already provides approximately 2 percent of the state's employment, he said.
Whether any of that comes to pass is another question. Maryland's raiders are not the first to attack the Silicon Valley, and other raids have not yet resulted in much dispersal of the industries located there. These industries are generally the businesses that design, manufacture and use the miniaturized processors and computers that have reduced the costs and multiplied the uses of technology.
"So far the dispersal has all been within the western United States," said Warren Davis, director of research for the Semiconductor Industry Association. A scarcity of qualified labor in the immediate area has prompted some moves to Utah, Oregon, Idaho and other areas of California but no eastward migration yet, he said.
"I think the hindrance to that in the past has been executive policies regarding proximity to headquarters," said Davis. In fact, some industries to be located within one day's driving time of headquarters.
Maryland state and business officials will try to woo the businesses with descriptions of extensive freight-handling airports, the rails and the Port of Baltimore. "Electronics facilities in this area have overnight truck access to 31 percent of the nation's population and 34 percent of the nation's plants," said Jim Devine, a spokesman for the economic development department.
"I've fielded people from states trying to attract the industry," said Davis, who once worked for Fairchild Industries. "They've had some good programs without question, in terms of benefits, outstanding technical universities, large engineering pools and cost-of-living indices that were far below those in the San Francisco area," he said.
In spite of those presentations, the concentrated pattern of location in the industry has been hard to shake, he said. "You could certainly make a case for it," he said. "It just hasn't been done."