Latimer and Ferree, an EDC business development specialist, said they are working to change that mind-set because the DBED can be a major player in directing prospective companies considering relocating or expanding to certain parts of the state.
Paul Mauritz, the DBED's assistant secretary for technology strategy and business development, said "it may have been the path of least resistance to put high-tech companies where they were" already clustered.
A "sea change" in the department's focus, under the Ehrlich administration, has DBED officials wanting, first, to create jobs in every county, and then to balance industry in each county, Mauritz said.
The department has a more aggressive stance about attracting high-tech jobs, he said.
Mauritz described a map on his wall that color codes by industry the companies the current administration has helped bring to the state. There are no blue labels representing advanced technology companies in Washington County, he said.
"I see it clear as day, and that's what keeps me up at night," Mauritz said.
Latimer and Ferree said they have noticed the sea change. The current administration has referred more high-tech and biotech prospects to Washington County.
Latimer estimated that 80 percent of the approximately 10 biotech prospects the county had last year came from the state. These are prospects that got beyond "just shopping us" and talked to EDC officials, she said.
The facts that the county is heavily Republican and the new administration is Republican probably have contributed to that, Latimer and Ferree said.
"Unfortunately, economic development does have politics in it," Latimer said.
Breaking the barrier
The other major hurdle to overcome concerning attracting biotech firms is getting the first one to come here, Latimer and Ferree said.
"Nobody wants to be the first by themselves," Ferree said.
Bob Eaton, president of MdBio in Frederick, Md., said biotech companies want to be close to each other so it's easier for the work force to move back and forth. Those companies usually are started by people who worked with universities and federal laboratories, so the companies tend to start near those locales, he said.
"There's enough risks involved in starting a bio company - to add a risk of not being able to find or attract the employees (they) need is one more risk," Eaton said.
MdBio is a nonprofit industry support organization for the bioscience industry in Maryland.
When talking to biotech company officials in Frederick and Montgomery counties, Ferree said he was surprised to learn they have a large number of employees who commute from Washington County.
EDC officials need to quantify how many county residents are commuting to such jobs and what their skill sets are so they can convince the DBED and industry officials that the county has a capable work force for high-tech and biotech jobs, Latimer said.
The other resource Washington County has is more and cheaper land than is available in Frederick and Montgomery counties, she said.
Mauritz said the cheaper land, water requirements biomanufacturers have and the work force trained in the manufacturing industries in Washington County work for the county. That's why he thinks Washington County will succeed in getting high-tech and biotech companies.
Emergent BioSolutions Inc. officials looked at Washington County last year when deciding on a vaccine manufacturing site for Emergent BioLogics, but chose Frederick County, Mauritz said. Mauritz said he did not know the deciding factor.
Emergent BioSolutions spokeswoman Kim Brennen Root said she couldn't speak to specific issues about why one county was chosen over another, but that the site and shell building in Frederick County fit the company's needs.
That facility will employ up to 400 people when at full capacity, according to an Emergent news release.
Focusing on biotech
Latimer said it's not realistic to recruit biotech research and development facilities because they work closely with big federal laboratories and want to be close to them.
"It's more realistic to attract manufacturing or packing and distribution for pharmaceuticals," Latimer said.