Which state has the nation’s most research-intensive economy? California? Massachusetts? North Carolina?
Actually it’s Maryland. A greater portion of Maryland’s economy comes from private, federal, and university research spending than any state (with the exception of rural New Mexico with its two large federal labs). But not enough of us recognize that.
Consider that Johns Hopkins University and University of Maryland, College Park are approximately the same distance apart as Duke and North Carolina State universities in Research Triangle, North Carolina. Yet Maryland boasts much more federal and academic research spending and more scientists and engineers than does North Carolina and its internationally known Research Triangle Park. Plus, Maryland is adjacent to the nation’s capital, embassies, three international airports, corporate headquarters and home to two top 50 internationally ranked research universities: JHU and UMD College Park.
So how can we take better advantage of our research assets for economic growth? Here are five ways Maryland can lead nationally and in the region by leveraging existing federal and private opportunities.
- Expand DCI- The DC I-Corps is an National Science Foundation-funded program that provides hands-on training, taught by entrepreneurs, on how to successfully incorporate research innovations into successful products. The program is run jointly by UMD College Park, JHU, GW, and Virginia Tech based on a well-regarded Stanford entrepreneurship program. Because NSF funding is limited, Maryland should provide additional state funding to expand the program to serve more private, federal and academic entrepreneurs and challenge D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Virginia. Gov. Terry McAuliffe to match the Maryland contribution into a regional program.
- Unleash our federal labs and federal researchers. Our region has the nation’s largest cluster of federal research labs, but they are legally isolated from having a local economic development mission. We should work with the local congressional delegations to help our region’s federal labs become more involved with local economic development by creating a congressionally charted TEDCO-like organization to remove legal and bureaucratic roadblocks in federal tech transfer. Expand federal entrepreneurial leave programs and appropriately fund federal tech transfer offices.
- Make the mid-Atlantic region the center for drug manufacturing innovations The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals is a new $250 million partnership funded by NIST to advance U.S. leadership in the biopharmaceutical industry, foster economic development, improve medical treatments and ensure a qualified workforce by developing new training programs matched to specific biopharma skill needs.
- Leverage the 21st Century Cures Act for regional impact. In a surprising bipartisan partnership, Congress approved the 21st Century Cures Act– worth an estimated $6.3 billion—with $5 billion to fund projects under the National Institutes of Health, including Vice President Joe Biden’s “cancer moonshot” research and the president’s Precision Medicine Initiative. About $500 million will be directed to the Food and Drug Administration Innovation Fund so it can develop tools to improve the efficiency of the drug approval process, which can take ten or more years. Our region is home to three of the five national FDA Centers for Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation. We should build alliances with the regional centers and biotech companies to demonstrate the biotech cluster in the region and take better advantage of the FDA Innovation Fund and our biotech assets.
- Link Baltimore and Washington. The Brookings Institution/JP Morgan Chase is working with a number of cities to boost global trade and investment, forge partnerships between U.S. and international metropolitan areas, and help companies find customers abroad. In fact, Baltimore and D.C. are the closest to each other of any designated Brookings “Global Cities.” The Maryland Department of Commerce helps state companies find international business markets by working with University of Maryland MBA students to develop customized international consulting services. This program could be expanded.
New initiatives like the Greater Washington Partnership and the 2030 Group show the appetite by business leaders for regional approaches to economic growth in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. We need to undergird the important discussion about regional branding initiatives with strategies and actual regional programming facilitated though our tech councils, universities and the private sector. Collectively we will be better for it.
Brian Darmody is associate vice president for corporate and foundation relations at the University of Maryland, College Park and member of the Maryland Tech Council board of directors.