IT IS always interesting to note what...


IT IS always interesting to note what outside observers have to say about our fair city. A recent report in the New York Times focused on the campaign to make Baltimore, "once characterized by blue collars and blue crabs," a leading biotechnology center.

The Times piece gives Maryland an A for effort, noting widespread cooperation among players in both the private and public sectors to make cheap rental space available for incubator projects, to offer tax breaks and other incentives to locate here, to ginger up the training of biotechnicians by institutions of higher education and to tap into the expertise of the National Institutes of Health, the Federal Food and Drug Administration, the National Cancer Institute and, of course, Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland.

The problem is venture capital, for which we get only about a C-minus. The state's $20 million fund is dismissed by Charles Newhall III, general partner in Baltimore-based New Enterprise Associates, as a "sprinkle." His controversial solution: Tapping $310 million in state pension funds over ten years. In contrast, Alex Brown's president, Mayo A. Shattuck III, says the solution must lie in "market-pull, not a cash-push situation."

We can take comfort in the Times' assertions that we have "the most comprehensive recruiting effort in the country" and that we are "the nation's most active recruiter of biotech businesses." So watch out, Silicone Valley and Route 128. All Baltimore needs is a few billion dollars in venture capital and the sky's the limit!

FINDING available and affordable child care is a growing problem for many working parents. There seems to be a way to get a discount, if you're willing to put up with the conditions.

One of the first contacts for parents is the Department of Social Services, which provides a list of state-certified family day-care providers in the requested ZIP code (residence or work site or school site) with basic information about the facility: pets, number of children, discount for siblings, if infants (under 2 years) are accepted, etc.

The agency also records whether there is smoking in the home, a factor of increasing concern among customers of child-care.

When you call the names of these in-home child-care providers on the list, two patterns become clear.

Although child-care providers set their own rates, the rates in a given area are very much the same. Clearly, day-care operators talk to each other and match the competition's prices. Especially since the demand typically exceeds supply.

But child-care homes identified as having smokers are less expensive, from $20 to $25 a week, according to several random surveys. The demand is obviously lower, and vacancies more frequent. It's one of the so far uncharted economic effects of the smoking habit.

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