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Tech guru Pike Powers says Harford can be major center

Pike Powers (left), and Harford County Economic Development Director Jim Richardson.

Harford County may not be a major metropolis, but economic development expert Pike Powers is convinced that by taking advantage of the Base Realignment and Closure process and expanding the county’s connections with nearby research universities, the area can become a major technological center in the coming years.

Powers, who is often credited with being a pioneer of the technological development of the city of Austin, Texas, in the 1980s, is speaking in Bel Air Tuesday at the Harford County Economic Outlook about how Harford can transform itself into a center of technology and innovation on the East Coast.

“If you build an information-based economy around technology, it can become a sustaining connective tissue or fiber throughout the economy,” Powers said.

The onslaught of new jobs that BRAC is bringing to Harford County, particularly at Aberdeen Proving Ground and particularly in the communication and electronic fields, makes the time ripe for technological development despite tough economic times, Powers said.

“The BRAC initiative is kind of this wonderful, special moment in time and place that you don’t obtain very often,” Powers said. “So I’ve said, ‘Please push ahead, do something while you’ve got the momentum and the initiative going.’”

The base realignment will bring 8,500 new Department of Defense jobs as well as 10,000 private sector contractor jobs to the region before it is completed on Sept. 15, James Richardson, director of economic development for Harford County, said. Aberdeen Proving Ground, already the county’s largest employer, will become a $20 billion a year industry when BRAC is complete, and 61 new companies have already relocated to Harford County in the past 18 months in response to BRAC, Richardson said.

Richardson said the job growth associated with BRAC will help Harford County to attract an educated young workforce to build its technological sector.

One of the most important factors in developing an area’s economy, Powers said, is forming connections with a local research university, both to attract an educated population to fill jobs and to encourage research and development in the area.

“The university drives the economy of the region, it drives the entire connectivity of the region,” Powers said.

To answer this need, Richardson said, Harford County is reaching out to universities in Maryland and surrounding states.

“We’ve talked to the University of Maryland, we’ve talked to [University of Maryland, Baltimore County], the University of Delaware, and we’re really looking at every opportunity that we have to build partnerships,” Richardson said.

While the county is in the process of developing plans to partner with a university and attract more young people to the region, Richardson said there is no rigid timeline of when the county hopes to accomplish these goals.

County Executive David Craig said Powers was invited to speak at the Economic Outlook because his experience makes him a valuable resource in helping Harford County find new ways to fund businesses and entrepreneurs, particularly through venture capitalism and angel investments.

“We reached out to him in the winter time because we thought he’d be the best person to come up and break ground on the issue of getting private capital directed to helping newcomers that need it,” Craig said. “We think he has information that can help us with the increase in BRAC and with helping companies reach out to find capital.”