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'Tech Territory' needs cooperation to prosper

July 31, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Instead of competing with each other for new jobs and businesses, five Maryland counties are joining ranks to create a new "brand" they hope will draw high technology companies to the region. It's a good idea that points up the need for educational achievement and inter-governmental cooperation.

Washington, Montgomery, Frederick, Allegany and Garrett counties are forming "Potomac Tech Territory" based on an idea from Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who felt that companies priced out of Montgomery County shouldn't be chased out of the state.

The proposal, backed by state economic development officials, will eventually have participating counties pool marketing dollars to increase their impact. The first big exhibition for the group will be BIO 2003, an international trade show to be held in Washington, D.C.

Part of what's needed to make this effort successful is a continuing emphasis on education. Both Washington and Frederick counties' community colleges are developing curriculum and training courses for the biotechnology industry.

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But the effort also needs a commitment from citizens to become better educated. The 2000 census shows that 14.6 percent of Washington County's population have a bachelor's or other advanced degree.

In Frederick County, the percentage is 30 percent. Some may argue that there's more to learning than what's contained in books. We would agree, but the last U.S. Census showed that Washington County's median income was $40,617, compared to $60,276 for Frederick County.

Is there a link between that higher income and the fact that twice as many Frederick County residents have a bachelor's degree or more? We believe there is, and the new University System of Maryland campus planned for downtown Hagerstown can't open soon enough for us.

Something else that should open soon is a search for a new Washington County economic development director. How serious will bio-technology companies take a county whose leaders aren't sure they need a permanent employee to lead their economic-development effort?

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