On the heels of greater Baltimore being designated a federal Tech Hub for artificial intelligence and biotechnology, a regional consortium is pursuing $40 million to $70 million in federal funding to build out tech innovation centers, laboratories, biomanufacturing facilities and workforce development programs.
“This is truly a once-in-a-generation, historic program,” said Pothik Chatterjee, Chief Economic Officer of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC).
GBC led a five-month effort by a consortium of 38 tech companies, universities, financiers, local governments and nonprofits to secure the designation for the Baltimore-Columbia-Towson metropolitan statistical area under a new program by the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The region was just one of 31 Tech Hubs selected from a field of nearly 400 applicants.
In Phase II of the program, the consortium will be able to compete for a share of $500 million appropriated to help federal Tech Hubs advance their core technology area. The program’s goal is to enable Tech Hubs to become nationally and globally competitive in their chosen specialty.
The Baltimore-Columbia-Towson consortium’s top priorities in Phase II include building out infrastructure in the region (tech incubators, laboratories, manufacturing spaces, etc.).
Consequently, the commercial real estate industry has a key role to play in advancing the region as a hub for AI and biotechnology, said Jennifer Jones, Chief Executive Officer of the Howard County Economic Development Authority. HCEDA is a member of the consortium.
“I want commercial real estate developers to look at their space creatively and innovatively, and reach out to me with their ideas for things that will help their companies and help the Tech Hub develop,” Jones said. “In Howard County, one source of untapped potential is our Gateway District. We have been talking about the Innovation District in Gateway for a while now. We have assets in place, a lot of great tech companies and we have an MOU with Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab who are working with us on an open innovation platform. I think we have a prime opportunity to turn some space into a living lab.”
Baltimore Peninsula is clearly suited and eager to help the Tech Hub succeed, said Scooter Monroe, Vice President of Leasing for MAG Partners.
Focused on technology companies and offering a broad range of commercial spaces, the development could help tech innovators address a business challenge, namely attracting talent, Monroe said. “Talent is the lifeblood of business and businesses will follow talent. Our region has a deep talent pool and Baltimore Peninsula was specifically designed to help companies, like Under Armour, attract great talent.”
The peninsula’s “authentically Baltimore” design aesthetic, vibrant placemaking, live-work-play facilities and cool amenities, such as the newly announced vegan restaurant by Pinky Cole, “create an environment where companies and workers will want to be,” Monroe said.
That environment, he added, is well positioned to be the home of a dynamic and thriving cluster of tech companies.
The impact of successfully executing the local Tech Hub vision could be enormous.
In its application, the Baltimore-Columbia-Towson consortium focused on the intersection of AI and biotechnology, specifically through “predictive technologies that improve health and wellbeing at the individual, community and national levels,” Chatterjee said. “AI is transforming the way that healthcare companies and scientists are developing new diagnostics, drugs and personalized medicine. We have access to unprecedented levels of data on personal genomes from diverse patient populations where AI can be applied to generate profound insights on breakthrough diagnostics, improved treatments, and accelerated drug discoveries.” Predictive healthcare technology is projected to grow rapidly into a $70 billion industry worldwide by 2030. The consortium estimated the industry in the Baltimore-Columbia-Towson region could grow to $4.2 billion in the same period, creating 52,000 jobs, with the help of the Tech Hub program.
Phase I of the program gave the region preferred access to federal innovation programs, the Foreign Direct Investment Initiative, and an array of other economic development programs to address regional broadband access, housing planning, and transportation infrastructure.
Before the program’s Phase II deadline to apply for project funding at the end of February, the consortium plans to further research, refine and prioritize its list of initiatives to create technology infrastructure, support workforce development and attract private investment. The consortium also aims to leverage the program to create America’s first Equitech City, which addresses longstanding disparities and provides equitable investment to minority and women entrepreneurs and job training opportunities to people of all backgrounds.
Consortium members predict the initiative will do far more than provide a direct infusion of federal funds into the region. They expect it to also attract tech companies and private investment to the region.
“Most technology investors focus on Silicon Valley, Austin and a few other established hubs. Historically, this region hasn’t attracted the same amount of investment,” Jones said.
That shortfall is due, in part, to the perception that business in central Maryland is dominated by federal contracting and the misperception that federal contracting doesn’t involve much tech innovation, she said.
“But there is just as much innovation in federal contracting as anywhere else,” Jones said. “I think the federal designation will help us commercialize more of our technology.”