- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2012

RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said Wednesday he is seeking nearly $37 million in his biennial budget to lure businesses and jobs to the commonwealth, putting much of the focus on life sciences and biotechnology — sectors that are staples of the economy of neighboring Maryland.

Some $10 million will fund a life-sciences package that could go toward supporting research at colleges or businesses.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, the state’s chief jobs-creation officer, said Virginia has completed 671 business deals since the start of the administration. But life sciences and biotechnology — Maryland’s bread and butter — are areas where the state intends to step up its efforts.

“There, frankly, are a lot of states around the country over the course of the past several years who have been a lot more aggressive in the area of biotechnology and life sciences than we’ve been,” he said. “Places like Massachusetts and Texas and Pennsylvania, even Maryland has been much more — well, I shouldn’t say ‘even’ Maryland.”

“Maryland,” the governor chimed in.

“Maryland has been much more aggressive in some of these biotechnology, life sciences areas,” Mr. Bolling said.

The quality of Virginia’s health care facilities, its universities and pharmaceutical companies make it primed to expand in those field, Mr. Bolling said.

“We believe this is a sector we can compete in more effectively than we have in the past,” he said. “Some of these new and emerging biotechnology and life-sciences companies that we’ve had a hard time tracking, frankly, we’re going to get in the game on those, because it is a growing area of the economy.”

Mr. McDonnell, who has consistently said he wants Virginia to be the “Energy Capital of the East Coast,” also proposed $500,000 to go toward offshore wind-energy development — another of Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s legislative priorities in the coming General Assembly session.

The largely friendly regional rivalry between Maryland and Virginia took a sharper political edge last year, when Mr. McDonnell and Mr. O’Malley took the reins as chairmen of their parties’ respective governors associations.

Virginia famously beat out Maryland, as well as the District, to lure defense contractor Northrop Grumman’s headquarters in 2010, thanks in part to an incentives package worth between $12 million and $14 million. Last year, engineering giant Bechtel announced it was moving its corporate headquarters from Frederick to Fairfax, bringing with it 625 jobs and an $18 million investment.

And in a now-infamous series of events, Montgomery County backed off a nonbinding resolution calling for Congress to spend less on defense and more on social programs. The county council got pushback from defense giant Lockheed Martin, which is based in Bethesda, as well as Mr. O’Malley’s office. Virginia officials reportedly contacted Lockheed in the interim to gauge its interest in moving south of the Potomac River.

Maryland officials responded Wednesday by saying that, even with competition from Virginia, the state will remain a national leader in the biotech and life-sciences industries. They also disputed the perception that Virginia is the more business-friendly state, contending Maryland created more than twice as many jobs as Virginia last year.

“It’s always nice to have competitive neighbors to strengthen our abilities,” said Takirra Winfield, spokeswoman for Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat. “But there is no concern with Maryland’s ability to compete and win in the new economy.”

Maryland’s life-sciences industry employs more than 71,000 people and each year drives $17.6 billion in direct and indirect economic activity, while generating about $500 million in income- and sales-tax revenue, according to the state.

The Virginia Biotechnology Association lauded Mr. McDonnell for his efforts in promoting the business sector. The VBA estimated that, all told, the governor’s proposed budget includes more than $47 million in economic-development money that will directly boost the state’s bioscience and advanced-technology industries. That includes $15 million for a refundable research-and-development tax credit, $12 million for the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund, which goes toward science and technology-based development, and $10 million for an “angel” investor tax credit.

“Governor McDonnell and Lieutenant Governor Bolling are to be commended for their strong support of these proven technology-based economic-development programs,” VBA Executive Director Mark A. Herzog said in a statement. “Bioscience jobs pay approximately $40,000 above the average annual salary. These initiatives will create more job opportunities in many regions across Virginia.”

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