The latest strategy from the state Department of Employment and Economic Development is a natural. It would channel Maryland's tools for promoting economic growth into two areas, life sciences and information technology. This dovetails with the Greater Baltimore Committee's bid to create a life-sciences economy for Central Maryland. It would make allies of such regional resources as the federal government's own medical research centers and university research activities all along the Baltimore-Washington corridor. Maryland's inherent strengths would be used as a springboard for technologically driven business opportunity.
This new focus recognizes sweeping changes in the regional economy. While the health-services sector accounted for only 8 percent of all new jobs in Maryland from 1982 to 1989, it has accounted for almost 40 percent of the state's employment growth during the current recession. Together, life sciences and information technology employ nearly a half million Marylanders.
In the past, DEED has tried to be all things to all people. During the Schaefer years, the department has offered a kaleidoscope of ideas and initiatives, but much of it was unfocused and lacked follow-through. The latest plan contemplates a more studied tack that centers on refashioning Maryland's economy rather than continuing the often-illusory task of counting new jobs.
Under this strategy, DEED will sow the seeds necessary to grow jobs in Maryland rather than courting companies from afar, which is a costly and time-consuming exercise. That means matching government resources with the need and acting as an intermediary between government, academia and industry. The department's revamped role may be uncomfortable at first. It will have to strike a balance between its new objective and the rest of the state's economy, including hard-strapped areas of the state. It must also sell this approach to employers accustomed to the old ways.
During the 1980s, Maryland, like many other states, tried to buy economic success with tax giveaways and lavish development initiatives. The money isn't there anymore and is unlikely to return in the decade of the 1990s. DEED's budget has already been chopped to $32 million from $40 million and Secretary Mark L. Wasserman is bracing for another round of cuts. The challenge of this decade will be doing more with less.