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Forging a smart growth economy [Commentary]

The best state in the nation for innovation and entrepreneurship three years in a row is Maryland. This is according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (hardly a mouthpiece for the Maryland Democratic Party), which also ranks Maryland No. 1 for STEM employment and No. 3 for our "Talent Pipeline."

These rankings show that we're doing the things that work. If we stay on track, our long-term economic prospects are excellent.

But don't take my word for it. In his much-heralded work, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," economist Thomas Piketty writes, "Over the long run, education and technology are the decisive determinants of wage levels."

That's the strategy we're executing in Maryland where, together, we're investing in education, and we're investing in innovation.

We set a goal of increasing the number of STEM college graduates in Maryland 40 percent by 2015 — already we've driven up STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees by 37.1 percent.

Maryland is also the only state in America to freeze in-state tuition at state colleges and universities four years in a row during the recession. And get this: since 2007-08, we've done more than any other state in the nation to hold down the cost of college.

The O'Malley-Brown administration has increased K-12 education investments every year since taking office. In our final budget, we invested more than $6 billion in the state's public schools — a 36 percent increase over the final budget of the previous administration.

At the same time, we've made record investments in emerging job sectors: cybersecurity, space and aerospace, and biotech and life sciences. We're partnering with businesses to create a healthy economy that is creating jobs and expanding opportunity.

Take cyber. To capitalize on the growth-potential of that sector, which already employs more than 77,700 people in Maryland, we launched the CyberMaryland Initiative. As part of that initiative, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to establish a National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence in Montgomery County. We will collaborate with industry leaders like Microsoft, HP, Symantec, McAfee and Intel to develop cybersecurity solutions. And we created the Cybersecurity Tax Credit in 2013, the first of its kind in the nation, to encourage private investment in Maryland cybersecurity companies.

We're growing our biotech economy too. In 2009, we launched Maryland's Bio2020 plan, which called for investing $1.3 billion in our life-sciences sector by 2020. We're partnering with life sciences companies, and we've invested more than $600 million so far in infrastructure, tax credits and equity investments in biotech companies. And today, Maryland has more than 500 life-sciences companies, employing more than 34,000 people.

Since the inception of Bio2020, we've also doubled the Biotechnology Investment Incentive Tax Credit, from $6 million in 2007 to $12 million in 2014. Our efforts work in concert with industry leaders: the biotech tax credit has helped more than 65 companies raise more than $110 million in private funding. This will help grow this job-producing sector even faster.

We're also doing more than ever before to stimulate entrepreneurial activity. In 2011, we created InvestMaryland to increase venture capital investments in young, high-tech Maryland companies. Through a historic online auction of insurance premium tax credits, the program raised $84 million. We're leveraging those dollars by making equity investments in our most promising startups.

The path is clear. To create jobs — invest in education, and invest in innovation. In part because of the better choices we've made together, Maryland now has the highest median income of any state in the country.

There is much more to do. We must continue to do the things that work: we need to invest intelligently and with foresight to expand opportunity, promote prosperity and help ensure that our children are winners in the changing global economy.

Progress is a choice — we do not move forward by chance. Hope drives belief. Belief drives action. And action achieves results.

Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, is governor of Maryland. His email is governor@maryland.gov

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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