iBiquity gets state loan, stays in Howard

The Baltimore Sun

State taxpayers provided $300,000 to help keep the creators of high-definition radio in Maryland, economic officials said yesterday.

In return for the cash, iBiquity Digital Corp. promised to double its number of employees to 120 by the end of 2009 and keep the positions active through 2013.

Company executives are also required to use the money for capital improvements on their new, roomier Columbia headquarters, which they moved into last spring. At 18,000 square feet, the location is double the size of iBiquity's former space in Columbia.

"We're growing in terms of staff, and ... we needed a larger lab," iBiquity spokeswoman Vicki Stearn said.

The privately held company pioneered high-definition radio technology, which analysts have called the most significant broadcasting advance since the invention of FM. Digital radio is said to provide CD-quality sound over the airwaves, the kind that rivals deliver by satellite. So far, about 1,600 of the country's 13,000 radio stations provide high-definition radio with iBiquity technology. In Maryland, 14 stations broadcast 23 "HD" radio channels.

To catch the signals, consumers need HD radios, which just a few years ago were only available for automobiles and ran between $500 and $1,000. Today, both home and car receivers are on the market for between $150 and $500, some with iTunes-style downloading capabilities, like the ones made by Sony Corp. and JVC that iBiquity highlighted at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

IBiquity tests and certifies HD radios, leading to the company's need for larger laboratory space, according to Stearn.

Stearn said the company, which had its beginnings in the early 1990s, looked at several locations, but chose to stay in Columbia, in part because of the state's cash incentive.

"In today's highly competitive economy, I am extremely pleased that iBiquity has chosen to stay and expand in Maryland," Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a statement. The money is considered a "forgivable loan," meaning if iBiquity hires and keeps the staffing levels outlined in the agreement, it can keep the cash, according to state economic officials.

Howard County added $30,000 to the package.

"IBiquity's decision to keep their corporate headquarters in Howard County validates our strategy that targets national, regional and divisional headquarters," County Executive Ken Ullman said in a statement.tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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