Md. panel encourages greater tech investments

Maryland's technology business base would be enhanced by greater investment of state pension dollars in private equity and venture-capital funds and by hiring a chief technology officer, a new report concluded.

Recommendations for improving the state's business image, made by a commission appointed more than a year ago by Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr., also include the need for stronger partnerships between the private sector and the state's universities and laboratories, more aggressive marketing and shoring up existing financing programs for small businesses, all perennial issues facing economic development promoters.

"My administration is unapologetically pro-business, and their work will help us make Maryland a newly competitive business environment," Ehrlich, a Republican and former congressman, said in a statement accompanying this week's release of the report from the 21-member Commission on Development of Advanced Technology Business, headed by Baltimore patent attorney George Pappas.

The commission, which includes members from technology companies, investment houses, universities and public-sector institutes and offices, noted that other states have successfully funneled pension funds into riskier private equity and venture capital funds.

Maryland has put 0.3 percent of its investment in private equity, below the 4.7 percent national average, and near the bottom of states that track such investments, the report said.

Investment in venture capital funds, often the only source of cash for startup technology companies, has been politically ticklish in Maryland and observers say chances are extremely slim that lawmakers will move on that recommendation this year.

Maryland opens its 90-day legislative session today and, like many other states, faces the prospect of cuts in programs and services wrought by a precipitous drop in tax revenue.

The commission also suggests that Maryland, home to a high concentration of federal research laboratories and regulatory agencies, hire its first-ever chief technology officer, who would report to the secretary of business and economic development.

"Potential for rapid and sustainable economic growth through the application of advanced technologies cannot be fully attained unless actions are taken today to align and integrate the competitive advantages that the state of Maryland clearly possesses," the commission wrote.

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