Richard Story may be on to something. The director of economic development for Howard County, Mr. Story is pushing a property tax credit on new equipment to stimulate the biotechnology industry in the county. It is not a giveaway, he says, because existing equipment would not be eligible for the 75 percent credit. The proposal must pass muster with the County Council.
Howard County's focus on the technology sector makes sense for several reasons. Mr. Story, who formerly ran the economic development shop in more industrialized Baltimore County, correctly senses that Howard is well suited to capitalize on the life science industry, due to its prime geographic location between Baltimore and Washington, the quality of its communities and school system, its attractiveness to foreign investors as well as American entrepreneurs.
Those are the same characteristics that have led biotechnology startups to cluster along Montgomery County's Interstate 270, and more notably in California's Silicon Valley and suburban fTC Boston's Route 128 corridor. In fact, some of the brightest lights on Maryland's technology business roster are already in the Columbia area: Martek Biosciences Corp., Shimadzu Scientific Instruments, Niro Atomizer Ltd., Crop Genetics International Corp.
Maryland -- rich in Ph.D. scientists and home to the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins University (including Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory, Howard's largest private employer) -- has sought to make biotechnology ventures the core of its economic development program. Toward that end, Baltimore has the Christopher Columbus Center for Marine Biotechnology and the University of Maryland's Medical Biotechnology Center taking shape. Howard is suited for a higher profile role in the state's nurturing of the life sciences.
County financial officers must determine the impact of the tax credit, but Mr. Story contends any revenue drain would be offset by job growth. Montgomery and Prince George's counties already offer similar credits, and Baltimore City and Worcester County have approved such credits for next year.
After last year's disappointment over the Coca-Cola plant proposed for Dorsey, which got bottled up after some wrangling over county incentives, and the governor's own waffling over a state snack tax that he came to believe sent a negative signal to new business, the high-tech equipment tax credit in Howard would seem to send the right message to the right place at the right time.