Maryland High-Tech Gets Voice in Assembly

Maryland has established a subcommittee under the General Assembly to represent high-tech business

For the first time, Maryland's high-tech business community will be heard in Maryland's General Assembly.

The House Economic Matters Committee has formed the Science & Technology Subcommittee, a group of seven representatives from Maryland's districts and members of the high-tech community. The group's mission is to take inventory of Maryland's high-tech companies and institutions and define problems in legislation that affect high-tech companies. Kumar Barve, the group's appointed chairman, is hoping the subcommittee will serve as a catalyst to increase competitiveness between Maryland's high-tech community and its neighboring states.

The subcommittee was formed by Speaker of the House Casper Taylor after he was approached by several members of the business community in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

"We are pleased that [Taylor] heard our members' concerns about the lack of a focus for technology in Annapolis," said Dyan Brasington, president of the Suburban Maryland High Technology Council.

According to Barve, the primary focus of the group is to document the state's high-tech assets. The information will be used to define problems high-tech companies face in legislation. For example, tax incentives and building regulations are two primary complaints of high-tech leaders and a possible deterrent to attracting new businesses.

The committee's members have backgrounds in technology and science business, and as representatives from Maryland's counties. Barve is founder and CEO of Environmental Management Services in Rockville, Md., and has served on the Maryland General Assembly since 1990. Bob Frank, who will serve as vice chairman of the committee, is an attorney, electrical engineer and a representative of Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties. The other members have backgrounds in business management, banking and bioscience.

The group's first objective is to take inventory of the state's high-tech community, which will consist of looking at where small and medium-sized high-tech companies are located within the counties, how many employees they have, annual revenues and the value of their industries. The subcommittee will also take inventory of academic institutions such as the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University, as well as the federal institutions such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Science and Technology. The group is also contemplating taking on a role in reforming financial issues within the Appropriations Committee of Maryland, including access to venture capital.

"High-tech is something [Maryland has] done well with, but there is always room for improvement," said Barve. "We're in the position of defining the problem and making Maryland laws in a more favorable light."

But some leaders of the business community are skeptical of the subcommittee's focus. Richard Hayman, president of Hayman Systems, a systems integrator in Laurel, Md., and one of the winners of Maryland's Entrepreneur of the Year awards, says the real problem is that the state of Maryland does not appear unified. He says Maryland has had a tough time attracting business because each county within the state has its own rules and regulations. He also sees transportation from county to county as a major obstacle. For example, there is only one major road that connects Montgomery County and Prince George's County, two areas where people either live or work. He says that the lack of connectivity has a large effect on the growth of the high-tech sector.

"They're missing the boat if they don't concentrate on getting people to work in a timely manner," said Hayman. "They need to focus on basic items like transportation and education, two things that affect high-tech growth."

Hayman complains that the state gives incentives to sports stadiums rather than high-tech companies.

"The real benefit [of the subcommittee] is the very fact that we're going to raise the high-tech community's profile in the General Assembly," said Barve. "There is a real feeling that high-tech's needs are different than other industries'."

Maryland's high-tech firms account for 41.6 percent of 2,331 high-tech firms located in the greater Washington area. The state also holds the fourth largest region of biotechnology firms in the country.

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