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Tech industries called vital for state

CAMBRIDGE — Maryland needs to find ways to increase manufacturing jobs in economically depressed areas of the state. Or it has to find technology innovators, because manufacturing is dead.

Those were the two sometimes conflicting messages economic development officials were given in less than 24 hours at the Maryland Economic Development Conference.

Some economists and business experts said the trick ultimately may be to find a way to make both manufacturing and technology fit within the overall economic development plan of the state.

“Technology is not an industry,” said Michael Galiazzo, executive director of the Regional Manufacturing Institute. “It’s like electricity. It’s what makes industry work.”

Galiazzo, a long-time supporter of manufacturing in Maryland, said he was disappointed that some who spoke at the annual economic development conference declared manufacturing dead.

Galiazzo suggested a future where the manufacturing industry and technology innovators partner to “invent it in Maryland, build it in Maryland.”

Paul Singh, a venture capitalist and founder of Disruption Capital and Crystal Tech Fund, told attendees Tuesday that economic development through manufacturing is more difficult if not impossible.

“The age of the industrialized city is over,” Singh said.

“I don’t have any illusions that every job will become a tech-enabled job, but the reality is that what we do will affect everything you do,” Singh said. “Everything you are doing in your cities, tech has to be a part of it. It doesn’t have to be the whole thing. What happens in our sector determines the salary in other sectors.”

Singh and others cited statistics which show that each tech job create five ancillary jobs. Jobs in manufacturing creates less than two ancillary jobs on average but those jobs are higher wage positions.

The new model of economic development “is less about what buildings you can put in this place and more about who are the best people within 100 miles of where you are and how can you get them to come live, work, play, and grow where you are?’ Singh said.

“Tech is the fundamental driver of growth in the industrialized world. It must have a seat at the table,” Singh said.

The trick for economic development officials is to “find a way to live in this new reality,” Singh said.

State officials said they recognize both the importance of technology-based companies and other industries within the state’s economic eco-system.

“The reality is that the tech sector is disrupting lots of other sectors and creating a lot of wealth and employment,” said Ursula S. Powidzki, assistant secretary at the Department of Business and Economic Development.

Just the day before, Anirban Basu, a Baltimore economist, told attendees that the state needed to develop a strategy for helping what he called “second Maryland” regions including the Eastern Shore, Western Maryland and Baltimore City. One strategy suggested by Basu involves luring manufacturing businesses to those areas.

The solution for improving struggling regional economies in Maryland may lie somewhere in the middle, and the strategies for each area of the state could be a little different, Powidzki said.

“Each region has to figure out what it’s competitive strength is,” she said. “It’s OK not to agree.