Montgomery County officials and companies last week said they have formed an organization to promote development of the academic resources needed for the continued growth of local businesses involved in new technologies.
"We want a university presence here in the county," said Harvey K. Kushner, chairman and chief executive of ORI Inc. of Rockville and chairman of the steering committee for the newly formed Montgomery County High Technology Council.
The University of Maryland has started a few programs in Montgomery County as offshoots of its College Park campus, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore hopes to launch three new masters programs in the county.
Members of the new high-tech council, which is financed by local industry and government, hope to work with officials of the state and the two universities on their plans to expand into the county.
Montgomery County has become a cradle for new companies in the fields of telecommunications, biotechnology, computer sciences and other areas of rapidly advancing technology. But the county is one of the few such "high-tech" business communities that has grown up without the presence of a top university, Kushner said at a press conference.
In other high-tech communities such as in the areas surrounding Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the academic and business communities have formed close relationships based on the exchange of ideas, research work and personnel.
Corporate scientists in those areas enjoy the opportunity to teach, to attend continuing-education courses in their fields and to remain active in academic research efforts. Companies there also can draw on faculty and graduate students as consultants, and have access to a labor pool bolstered by the talent attracted to the university.
Although federal research facilities in Montgomery County have a similar influence, local companies involved in rapidly advancing technology fields "urgently need" the presence of top academic resources "to grow and expand," Kushner said.
The University of Maryland offers about 40 continuing-education courses in the county, and is offering some other courses by television. The university is also a major partner with the county and the National Bureau of Standards in the new Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology, which will be based in the county's Shady Grove Life Sciences Center.
Johns Hopkins has asked the state Board of Higher Education to approve its proposal to offer masters degree programs in Montgomery County in electrical engineering, computer sciences and technical management.
The county has committed $300,000 over three years in seed money for the council and will pay for the two buildings to be constructed to house the biotechnology center and the Johns Hopkins programs, said Robert G. Snyder, the county's business-academia officer.
The council will act as "a liaison between business and academia," Kushner said. It will be a private, nonprofit organization, to be supported entirely by the dues of its members after the first three years. Its members now include representatives of more than 20 local companies, the National Institutes of Health, the National Bureau of Standards, the two universities and Montgomery College. The group has targeted about 150 local companies as potential members, Kushner said.
The business group said it also hopes to foster research collaboration between the private sector and the universities.
Kushner said the council will not be a "lobbying organization." The county's Snyder said, however, "We will need their support in Annapolis."