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Tech backers bring infrastructure plan to Md. lawmakers

Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz (File photo)

Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz (File photo)

Improving Maryland’s innovation infrastructure will enable the state to make the technology investments it needs to keep up with states like California and Massachusetts in the innovation economy, members of Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration told the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday.

A fund proposed by the Hogan administration would provide public money for innovation infrastructure projects, like cyber ranges, laboratories and co-working spaces. The plan would use these public funds to leverage private capital, potentially through opportunity zones.

“We have a great raw material to work with in Maryland. We have our research universities, we have an educated and highly talented workforce,” Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz told lawmakers. “We can do better. We can leverage what we have into more growth and more investment.”

The Maryland Technology Infrastructure Program would create an infrastructure fund with $16 million annually to spend on innovation infrastructure projects. But supporters hope they can leverage that public funding with three-to-five times as much investment from the private sector.

TEDCO, Maryland’s Technology Development Corporation, would house the fund. TEDCO already houses special funds like the Maryland Venture Fund.

Applications for funding would go through a Maryland Technology Infrastructure Authority to help decide which projects are worthy of investment. Members of the authority would include executives from cyber-related and life sciences companies and leaders from Johns Hopkins University and the University System of Maryland.

Between the state’s public and private universities, the National Institutes of Health and the National Security Agency, Maryland has assets it believes can make it a strong player for startups in the life sciences and cybersecurity.

The state placed third in think tank Milken Institute’s ranking of state innovation pipelines.

“Our collective goals are to build great companies that last, grow and, probably most importantly, stay in Maryland,” George Davis, TEDCO’s CEO, told the panel. “This is very important. It will add a much-needed critical component to ecosystem building.”

Some of that is infrastructure, like life sciences manufacturing facilities, that allow companies to grow their presence in Maryland.

Margot Connor, CEO of Frederick stem cell company Rooster Bio, told the panel that right now the company outsources its manufacturing to a Texas company.

Creating facilities for life sciences manufacturing could allow companies like Rooster Bio to do that work in Maryland while also creating jobs in the field.

No one registered their opposition to the bill Wednesday. But Sen. Malcolm Augustine, D-Prince George’s, said he wants to make sure the opportunities created under the legislation would be available to everyone.

“This is a very exciting opportunity obviously. What I did not hear and I would like to hear something about the diversity of the investments that there may well be,” he said. “I don’t see any discussion about diversity beyond (geographic diversity).”

Tami Howie has testified about Maryland’s life sciences and cyber business environment for years, first as CEO of the Maryland Tech Council and now at DLA Piper representing the Innovation Coalition.

In the past Maryland has taken incremental steps to help the community while also passing laws that have pushed businesses out of the state, she told the committee. But the infrastructure fund would be a big step in the right direction.

“This one I’m excited about. I’m really excited,” Howie said. “I think this will be huge headline news saying Maryland doubles down on its support of bio and cyber.”

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