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Universities key to regional cooperation among Md., D.C. and Va.

Regional cooperation spurs economic growth, and universities are key determinants for successful collaboration.

Despite the jurisdictional posturing in Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. over a possible Amazon headquarters, a new FBI building or a national football stadium, the recent joint trade mission to Canada by their respective leaders — along with efforts such as the Greater Washington Board of Trade holding its summit at the Pendry Hotel in Baltimore — all augur well for better regional cooperation.

But there's much more that we could be doing, and good reason to do it.

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It isn't always recognized how many technology assets are in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. The distance between Duke University and NC State in the internationally famous North Carolina Research Triangle is about the distance between Johns Hopkins University and University of Maryland, College Park, for example. And, like Duke and UNC Chapel Hill, both JHU and UM are ranked among the top 50 global research universities by U.S. News.

Our region is actually better positioned in some ways. Maryland's economy is much more concentrated in science and research than North Carolina's. Maryland — about half the size of North Carolina — has more PhDs, hundreds of millions of dollars more in academic research spending and billions more in federal lab research. And our region boasts three international airports, embassies, the headquarters for science and trade organizations, and the White House and Congress.

So compared to other parts of the country, we are relatively compact. In fact, the corridor from Baltimore's Inner Harbor to Virginia's port in Alexandria could practically fit inside the borders of the city of Los Angeles. But we don't act like a region, we don't have regional brand identity, and we report economic data as separate entities, with most economic development efforts managed by counties. So how do we fix the problem?

Building and expanding existing regional university partnerships is one way to span the jurisdictions without waiting for politically difficult new regional economic development programs to launch. For example, the National Science Foundation-funded D.C. i-CORPS program is a regional effort, using national best practices, to expedite tech transfer from regional universities and federal labs. We have a lot of research spending in the area but not enough commercialization, and i-CORPS is nationally recognized as a solution. Participants include UM, Virginia Tech, George Washington University and JHU. But the federal funding limits i-CORPS' scale. What about having the three jurisdictions kick in extra funding to expand this program to more companies, universities and federal labs, which would lead to regional growth?

The Brookings Institution works with "global cities" to create integrated export and foreign direct investment plans for small businesses in the 32 cities in the program. Baltimore and D.C. are the two geographically closest Brookings global cities. The UM Business School and GW Business school are the two geographically closest federally designated Centers for Business Education and Research (CIBERs). What about having these schools work with other business schools in the region such as George Mason, American, Towson and Morgan State and others to have MBA students develop export plans for small businesses?

We also need to better aggregate our regional resources. Three of the top 10 U.S. engineering schools in graduating African American engineers are in the corridor: Howard, Morgan State and UM. Isn't that the kind of data a corporation interested in a diverse technical work force — like Amazon — would want to know? UM has the nation's largest computer science program, ranked in the top 20, but we have many other comp science programs and information technology resources in the region that we need to leverage.

The FDA has created Centers of Regulatory Science and Innovation (CERSI) to help academic institutions and industry advance regulatory science through innovative research and scientific exchange, with the promise of better drugs and more effective medical devices. Three of the four national CERSIs are in the Baltimore-Washington corridor: one joint with UM and the University of Maryland, Baltimore; one at JHU, and one at Georgetown University. With the construction of the $1 billion FDA campus in White Oak, and plans for a science city surrounding it, what about these centers working together to develop strategies to bring more bio and medical device resources to our region?

Regional cooperation spurs economic growth, and universities are key determinants for successful collaboration. As a lifelong Maryland resident, born in the Washington suburbs and now living in the Baltimore region, I know how valuable our institutions are. We should make the most of the opportunities they offer.

Brian Darmody (bdarmody@umd.edu) is associate vice president for corporate and foundation relations at the University of Maryland and sits on the boards of the Maryland Economic Development Association and Maryland Tech Council. These comments are his personal views.

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