Tom Baden//October 17, 2016
//October 17, 2016
Baltimore and Maryland may be poised to reap gains from the biohealth and cybersecurity sectors, two areas expected to provide many of the jobs of the future, but some familiar impediments — a struggling educational system, high taxes and a lackluster national reputation — are in the way, guests at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s annual economic forecast breakfast were told Monday.
“If land was the raw material of the agricultural age and iron the raw material of the industrial age, then data is the raw material of the technological age,” said Alec Ross, a distinguished visiting fellow at Johns Hopkins University and former senior adviser for innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Baltimore and Maryland are ideally positioned to take advantage of that new paradigm, said Ross, author of “The Industries of the Future.”
He noted that advances in computing power, science and economies of scale have aligned to drive down the cost of mapping a human genome from millions of dollars to about $1,000. With superb medical, genetics and computing programs at Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland and various government and military labs and research facilities, the region enjoys a huge competitive advantage over many others.
Ross also pointed out technological advances in robotics, autonomous vehicles and other tech fields are coming at a breathless pace. For instance, he said, the number of network devices is expected to grow from a current 16 million to 40 million by 2020.
“Every two years, we produce as much information as was produced from the time of paintings on cave walls until the year 2013,” he said.
Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group, agreed with Ross that Maryland has some strengths on which to build. In addition to the factors Ross cited, Basu said, the state is at the top of national rankings for household income, and its ranking of 18th for job growth, while not exemplary, nonetheless is solid.
“We are the best untold story in America,” he said.
Basu, a longtime advocate of the state diversifying its economy to reduce its reliance on federal government jobs and contracts, said the likelihood of a Clinton victory in the presidential campaign would give Maryland some breathing room.
“Maryland doesn’t have to worry too much about economic dislocation under a Hillary Clinton administration,” he said.
But both Ross and Basu said Baltimore is laboring under impediments that could darken its economic prospects.
Basu said the city’s poor reputation nationally, exacerbated by last year’s riots, make it a tough sell when it comes to recruiting top-notch talent for corporations, businesses, hospitals and universities.
The two said the city’s crime problem and the failures of its school system are far and away the most daunting obstacles.
Ross said the city needed to abandon an “industrial” teaching model in favor of one that intensifies training in sciences, interdisciplinary learning and computer coding.
“Computer code is the alphabet kids need to learn,” he said.
A former teacher in the Teach For America program at Booker T. Washington Middle School in Baltimore 22 years ago, Ross said the city school system is also hamstrung by too many poor teachers.
“Half of them don’t belong with our children,” said Ross, who added that he has three children in the city school system.
Basu said that while he appreciated Ross’ emphasis on computer and tech skills in the school system, he favored more of an approach to “teach to the child.”
Not every student, he said, is destined for college or graduate schools. Some high school grads are better suited to be electricians, carpenters or truck drivers – the important thing, Basu said, is tracking them after they leave high school and making sure they get the training they need.P