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Maryland’s counties competing to launch, nurture tech companies

Frederick County is planning to open its new ROOT center in December or January. (Submitted rendering)

Frederick County is planning to open its new ROOT center to startups in December or January. (Submitted rendering)

Maryland’s counties have jumped into the high-stakes competition for growing technology companies, using a variety of strategies to recruit and in some instances even finance tech firms.

Some counties are offering technology workshops. Others are diving into workforce training. Still others are sponsoring incubator spaces and setting up loan programs.

The Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation, for example, sponsors the Arundel Defense Tech Toolbox, a loan program for startup cybersecurity businesses.

The program is aimed at Anne Arundel-based technology companies with fewer than 100 employees and less than $5 million in gross revenue. They can apply for a loan between $50,000 and $250,000 at zero percent interest. The agency has put about $1 million into the program so far and hopes to use up that fund so that it can allocate more money, program manager Sarah Purdum said.

After working at The University of Maryland Baltimore County’s bwtech startup incubator, Purdum said, she realized the need in this area.

“Working with those companies was really eye-opening for me because they need a lot of help,” she said. “While they’re busy running their businesses they’re not constantly checking their emails and knowing what’s out there.”

The program was announced in July, just before the closure of the county’s Chesapeake Innovation Center, which hosted tech businesses, many of which have since been relocated, Purdum said.

Frederick County is planning to open its new ROOT center to startup tech companies in December or January, said Helen Propheter, the director of the Frederick County Office of Economic Development. It will have space for 20 companies, sponsored through the Frederick Innovative Technology Center Inc., which already has another location nearby. There’s already a waiting list.

“Many of the businesses that are currently at Starbucks or Panera or maybe our public library system or working from home — they’ll be able to have a seat at the table at the Market Street location,” Propheter said.

The Market Street space will also host offices for the county’s chamber of commerce and its economic development department. The two entities plan to collaborate to bolster local tech companies, and they hope to involve their higher education partners: Hood College, Mount St. Mary’s University, and Frederick Community College, potentially by welcoming their students as interns.

Through their 7-year-old Tech Frederick program, the county has worked to attract young technology professionals to the area with networking events and business listings.

“We were hearing from the CEOs of IT companies that they were having a harder time getting a workforce to Frederick, that young IT professionals did not know how cool Frederick is,” Propheter said.

The county forms part of a technology triangle in the state, Propheter said.

“There’s a nice triangle within the state of Maryland that’s really about research and tech: Montgomery County having the National Institute of Health; Frederick County having Fort Detrick; and Baltimore City having Johns Hopkins,” she said. “Just being a piece of that is important to Frederick.”

Queen Anne’s County’s economic development office, which has endured a period of transition, has a new director in Paige Tilghman and is eyeing support programs for its strongest technology area — marine technology, including high-tech boat rigging and structures, as well as marine radar and GPS technology.

Countywide and regional tech councils also lend a hand.

At the Northeastern Maryland Technology Council, the focus is on building the STEM workforce through camps, clubs and workshops, said John Casner, its executive director. Each year, the council hosts two conferences on “disruptive” technologies, whether artificial intelligence, drones or self-driving cars.

At the Carroll County Technology Council, they’re working to combat a problem.

“We have a phenomenal workforce, and the unfortunate part is so many of our residents leave the county each day to go to work,” said Kati Townsley

That’s where the council came into play.

“We want to bring employers and talent into the pipeline to get them hired locally,” she said.”So we had in our initial meeting in January after our launch, and we had a roundtable with employers, where we asked them what we could do to help.”

Since then, their TechHire program has hosted coding and soft-skills workshops.

Although there’s competition between the 24 counties in the state, technology and economics officials said each one has its place.

“Everyone has their specific niche, and we’re better at having our niche and promoting each individual county within the state,” said Propheter. “Maryland is too small of a state for us to kind of split off and try to be individual.”

Casner said he has a different name for it altogether.

“I like to call it co-petition — a cooperative means of accomplishing bigger goals,” Casner said. “I like to think that the counties in Maryland and the state of Maryland are considering how they compete on a global scale.”

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