Archives For March 2012

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDbizMedia

Maryland added 8,000 jobs in February, marking the sixth straight month of job growth for the state, according to figures released Friday morning by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

The jobs data held more good news — January’s job creation number was revised upward to 9,100, nearly doubling the initial estimate of 5,000 released earlier this month.

The unemployment rate remained unchanged last month, at 6.5 percent. That is the lowest unemployment rate in three years and is 0.7 percentage points lower than the jobless rate was one year ago.

As has been the case through much of the economic recovery, the private sector led the way in February, adding 10,500 jobs. Government departments and agencies shed 2,500.

Over the last 12 months, Maryland has added 47,000 jobs, a 1.9 percent growth rate. The private sector has grown even faster, adding 42,200 of those jobs and posting a 2.1 percent growth rate.

In February, the education, health care and social assistance sector added 5,800. Nearly 4,000 of those came in health care and social assistance, an area of strength for Maryland’s economy.

Professional and businesses services added 5,100 jobs and construction added 2,700 during what has been a relatively strong winter for that sector.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDbizMedia

You may not know their name, but you know who they work for.

Tucked away in a quiet business park in White Marsh, Social Solutions is expanding its already considerable presence through software that allows nonprofits and government agencies to apply business world analytics to social assistance programs.

“Answering the question ‘How many people showed up?’ and whether or not they graduated doesn’t really tell the entire story as to whether you’re having an impact,” said Steve Butz, the company’s co-founder and chairman.

He would know.

Butz said he began chewing on the idea that would one day grow into Social Solutions in 1995. Both he and co-founder Adrian Bordone worked for social assistance organizations before they started Social Solutions. They taught adults how to read, helped them earn high school equivalency degrees and prepared them for jobs.

But as they moved up the rungs of different organizations, they were both struck by the lack of data coming out of and influencing those programs.

“Both of us ended up in these environments where our nonprofit experience was running up against this business sector validation,” said Bordone.

“I would go into local businesses and the healthcare community … and the level of question and diligence they would go through with me revealed all the gaps I had in my understanding,” he said. “What is the level of effort? What’s the individual look like who can be most successful? How are you going to take these individuals from where they are to where they need to be?”

So Butz and Bordone set out to answer those questions.

Friends since third grade —Youth’s Benefit Elementary School in Harford County — and both Navy veterans, they founded Social Solutions in July 2000.

They now have 105 employees, most of them in the modern, open offices in White Marsh. Their software is used by some 3,500 organizations in the United States and Canada.

The software, called Efforts to Outcomes, or ETO, allows organizations to monitor services provided to clients and progress toward goals like passing grades, job training certificates or jobs themselves.

Social Solutions has partnered with the Urban Institute and Child Trends to glean the best practices from different social assistance organizations to offer a blueprint to others.

ETO has also found its way into the federal government. The software was used to measure recovery efforts after Hurricane Ike in 2008 and is now in place to help combat Medicaid and Medicare fraud.

Butz and Bordone said they also see opportunities to install the software in state agencies that provide social services as well as to groups of organizations that overlap in the services they offer or the people they serve.

Wherever ETO goes, those behind it say it leads to more effective practices and practitioners.

“There was nothing that came back to say here’s the results of the work we did last week, last month, last year,” Bordone said of his experience at nonprofits. “You can’t get up and keep throwing your passion into a bucket and watch it float away.”

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDbizMedia

Peter Greenleaf visited the Department of Business and Economic Development recently to oversee the historic tax credit auction that raised $84 million for the state’s InvestMaryland program. Greenleaf took some time out from his duties as chairman of the Maryland Venture Fund Authority for a quick Q&A about his day job — running MedImmune, one of Maryland’s most successful life sciences companies.

 

Q: We’ve heard about new a vaccine and new facilities. What’s going on at MedImmune?

A: “In the last several years, we’ve been investing incredibly, locally and, actually, around the world and expanding our operations. We’ve sold the company to AstraZeneca but they’ve invested in us heavily and we’ve been trying to grow their presence in biologics globally. A lot of that is in the Maryland area. We’ve doubled the size of the employee workforce in Maryland. We’re now, globally, about 4,000 people, 2,600 of them right here in Maryland. We’ve built facilities. We have a huge campus in Gaithersburg and we’ve just this past year finished a biomanufacturing facility in Frederick that we started in 2006, which represented north of a $500 million capital commitment from us. It puts us in the top tier of producers of monoclonal antibodies globally. It’s a world-class, first-rate facility. It’s going to add something like 300 jobs to that area. I think we’ll have 500 total people in Frederick alone. It’s actually been regulatory inspected and it’s online and we’re starting to push products through it. We signed a joint agreement with Merck to partner with them and work on all of them on all of their biologics products out of that facility. We’ve significantly progressed our pipeline. We have north of 150 projects that we’re pushing forward. These are projects that hopefully become drugs down the road. And we’ve progressed them not only into pre-clinical trials, but into human clinical trials and later-stage trials. And finally, this year, we got approved in the U.S. and Europe, a quadrivalent vaccine for influenza. Typical vaccines carry three strains of the virus and protect from three strains. We’re actually the first to be approved by the FDA for a vaccine that covers four strains of the virus. Usually there are three circulating. This adds one, hopefully adds greater protection from influenza.”

Q: What does that mean for MedImmune?

A: “We’re a company that’s done a lot of firsts. From the early days of having the first polyclonal antibody to protect premature infants from respiratory syncytial virus to Synagis, which was the first monoclonal antibody approved for an infectious disease, to the HPV vaccine, we’ve been a company of firsts. Our company is about innovation. It’s about solving human health issues. And I think this represents our progress toward that end.”

Q: In many ways, MedImmune is the face of the biotech sector in Maryland. What’s the state of the sector now and what do you see coming next?

A: “Classically, this sector has been because of its proximity to the agencies, to NIH, to the National Cancer Institute and to the major academic centers here, a broad center of early research. Great science comes out of this area. We have access to great researchers. And we’ve been one of the fastest growing sectors out there. We’ve actually owned for the past five years the fastest growing sector in the country. To me what’s really exciting, you’re starting see a lot of commercial entities start to blossom. In the life science sector, you have companies like United Therapeutics, MedImmune, Human Genome Sciences. You have companies that have made major progress, like MacroGenics. So there’s a real base of not only research entities, but commercial entities that are growing in the area. I think it bodes well for the area in job creation, for driving innovation and for leveraging the early phase science that has been going on here historically in the academic centers. So, there’s a strong future for life sciences and biotechnology in the Maryland area.”

Q: What is MedImmune’s place in that strong future?

A: “Right now I would consider us a sort of anchor company in the area. Twenty-five years ago we started our base business here with $2.5 million of venture capital funding. Twenty-five years later, we’ve launched north of five products. We’re a billion-and-a-half dollars in revenue. We have 4,000 employees globally. We’ve been adding anywhere between [500] and 800 jobs a year over the last several years [and making] massive capital investments. Obviously that creates jobs for the area. It creates career paths for people. It does a lot for the communities in which we live in, as well as work. I think MedImmune is a success story. It can be held up there in other sectors like the Under Armours of the world, where you start with an idea, you’re innovative, you push that idea, you get funding for it and it grows and blossoms into a much larger entity. I think we’re an example people should look at and say ‘It can be done. Proof positive, MedImmune was able to do it and now Human Genome and others are well down the same path.’”

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDbizMedia

While other bicycle designers were slimming down their products, Drew Phillips pedaled in the other direction.

Instead of making components out of ultra-lightweight carbon fiber or searching out lighter, stronger aluminum alloy, Phillips added a gas tank, transmission and 49 cc motor to his bike frame.

The result was a hybrid, a cross between a light motorcycle and a bicycle called the BIKETOO. After 15 years in development, Phillips said he hopes to have final prototypes finished this year and begin sales in the summer of 2013.

Phillips in his partners looked across this country and abroad for an established motorcycle name to partner with on the project, but never found any takers. So BIKETOO Inc. turned its focus local. The company plans to assemble its bicycles in Maryland.

“We decided we would do it all ourselves,” said Phillips. “We had put all the effort in.”

Phillips, an engineer, grew up riding mopeds, but said the BIKETOO is designed to be more of a true hybrid.

A moped “was never intended to be pedaled,” he said. “Their gear ratios were all so low you could get off and walk faster than you could pedal.”

The BIKETOO, which includes technologies covered by the company’s two patents, feels and functions like a normal bike, Phillips said, until the rider flips a switch and engages the motor. Classified as a motorized scooter, it will be street legal.

It will run on gasoline or propane. A 1 lb. bottle of propane will go 50 to 60 miles on the BIKETOO.

BIKETOO was granted $187,000 last summer by the Maryland Industrial Partnerships program to speed commercialization of the motorized bicycle. MIPS set University of Maryland students working on the design, refining the transmission and cutting the bike’s weight from more than 100 lbs. to a svelte 70 or 75.

The company has 3,000 square feet of space for assembly in Fruitland, just south of Salisbury. The transmission, castings and other components will be made in the United States, Phillips said, but the handlebars and frames will come from overseas.

Phillips said the BIKETOO will sell for $1,495 and recreational users will be its key demographic.

“You can’t see any RV going down the road without a motorcycle or a bicycle strapped to the back of it,” Phillips said. “The recreational market is what we think will be by far the largest.”

But the company sees other opportunities, too.

College students could motor to campus, pedal to class and then lock the BIKETOO up at the bike rack. Office workers with short commutes could use the motor in the morning and then pedal home in the evening to get their exercise.

Phillips said the company has gotten positive responses from the law enforcement community, including the San Diego Police Department. The BIKETOO would allow officers to conduct normal bike patrols, but respond to incidents more quickly and without tiring out the officer.

“They were very interested,” Phillips said. “If they can get one officer out of one car for a day, they save mad amounts of money.”

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDbizMedia

Education technology company 2tor Inc. plans to add 100 workers to its Landover headquarters over the next year after launching a partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Monday.

The four-year-old company now employs about 370, most of them in Prince George’s County.

UNC and 2tor are working to offer the School of Government’s Master of Public Administration program in a new online format. MPA@UNC will be the fifth such online degree program that 2tor has developed.

“Technology is changing industries and many facets of our daily routines, including how we learn,” said Chip Paucek, CEO and co-founder of 2tor.

“It’s incredibly exciting to sign on another great university partner,” Paucek said. “As we prepare for the launch of our fifth program, we’re looking to the talented Prince George’s County and Maryland workforce to join us at 2tor, where we’re changing the landscape of higher education and bringing a level of quality online that hasn’t been available before.”

MPA@UNC will admit its first students this fall and classes will begin in January. The program will be geared toward working professionals and others seeking more flexibility than traditional educational programs allow.

Courses will include both self-paced and live sessions at pre-arranged times. Live, streaming video will allow students and instructors to see and hear each other during discussions, and to meet during office hours.

“With the addition of this online MPA option, qualified students will be able to choose a program that fits their life needs and their learning preferences,” said Mike Smith, dean of UNC’s School of Government, “and we will expand our positive impact on communities across the country.”

2tor was founded in 2008 and was named this year one of the 10 most innovative companies in education by Fast Company. It has already developed four other online degree programs: a Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Social Work from the University of Southern California; Master’s in Nursing from Georgetown University and a Master of Business Administration from UNC.

 

By Jim Palma, Senior Manager, Research and Information, Department of Business and Economic Development

Maryland’s workforce was more “green” than all but three other states and the nation’s capital in 2010, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The first ever Green Goods and Services Survey, which measured jobs in green services and goods production, found 87,000 Maryland workers held such jobs. Green jobs accounted for 3.6 percent of all jobs in the state.

Nationwide, 3.1 million workers, or 2.4 percent of all workers, were employed in producing green goods or services in 2010.

Green jobs as a share of all state jobs. Maryland ranks No. 5 in the country.

Regionally, only Washington, D.C. had a higher share of green jobs than Maryland, due in large part to the high number of public employees involved in providing green goods and services. Pennsylvania was the only other state in the mid-Atlantic that ranked in the top 10.

The state with the most green jobs was California (338,000, 2.3 percent of all jobs in that state), while the state with the largest percentage was Vermont (4.4 percent, 13,000 jobs).

 

Green Goods and Services Jobs in the Mid-Atlantic Region, 2010

State Number of Jobs Percentage of Jobs Mid-Atlantic Rank National Rank
Delaware

7,978

2.0%

7      42
Maryland

87,408

3.6%

2        5
New Jersey

76,025

2.0%

8      41
New York

248,526

3.0%

4      11
Pennsylvania

182,193

3.3%

3        8
Virginia

91,871

2.6%

5      20
Washington D.C.

26,941

3.9%

1        2
West Virginia

14,533

2.1%

6      39
U.S. Total

3,129,112

2.4%

 

 

 

Maryland utilities had the highest percentage of employees involved in green products in the state, accounting 13.6 percent of all employment in the sector. Almost 9 percent of all workers in the construction industry are “green,” as are those involved in transportation and warehousing.

While industries such as leisure and hospitality and education and health services had small percentages of people involved in producing green goods and services, it should be noted that this survey does not measure employment within an industry that is focused on making that industry greener. Those jobs will be captured in an upcoming survey.

 

Green Goods and Services Jobs by Industry in Maryland, 2010

State

Number

Percentage
Total, all employment

87,408

3.6

Total private

55,742

2.8

Natural resources and mining

277

4.3

Utilities

1,324

13.6

Construction

12,510

8.8

Manufacturing

7,806

6.8

Trade

3,042

0.8

Transportation and warehousing

5,413

8.7

Information

(D)

(D)

Financial activities

(D)

(D)

Professional, scientific, and technical services

15,517

6.9

Management of companies and enterprises

(D)

(D)

Administrative and waste services

7,368

5.2

Education and health services

1,041

0.3

Leisure and hospitality

534

0.2

Other services, except public administration

510

0.6

Government (Federal, State, Local)

31,666

6.5

Note: (D) denotes data that was suppressed to comply with BLS rules on confidentiality

 

Industries involved in green activities create products or services that:

  • Create energy from renewable sources, such as wind, geothermal, solar, and hydropower.
  • Improve energy efficiency, such as energy-efficient appliances or Smart Grid technologies.
  • Support pollution reduction and removal, greenhouse gas reduction, and recycling and reuse.
  • Conserve natural resources through activities such as organic agriculture or wildlife conservation.
  • Support environmental compliance, education and training, and public awareness.

The survey is based on a sample of approximately 120,000 worksites throughout the United States. These worksites were asked to report the percentage of total revenues derived from creating green goods or services and the number of workers employed. Green employment was estimated from the percentage of total revenues obtained from green activities.

Note that the GGS survey only measures jobs that produce green goods or provide green services. Jobs that are focused on improving green practices within organizations will be measured by the upcoming BLS Green Technologies and Practices Survey. Once this survey is complete, the U.S. will have a comprehensive view of green jobs throughout the economy.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDbizMedia

It all started with a stomach bug.

In search of a quick diagnosis and some sympathy from similarly suffering friends, the bug’s victim took to Facebook.

“Sure enough, I found a friend of mine in D.C. who had the same exact symptoms that I had,” said Graham Dodge. “And then it occurred to me … that this sort of rudimentary search I was doing as an individual on Facebook could be done on a much larger scale.

Now, a little more than 18 months later, Dodge and two of his school friends are in their first round of fundraising for Sickweather, the souped-up, multinational version of Dodge’s search for sick friends.

Sickweather co-founders, from left, Graham Dodge, James Sajor and Michael Belt.

The site culls social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ for posts containing keywords indicating symptoms and illnesses. Users can also submit information directly to the site.

Sickweather uses that data to compile a sort of regional injury report. Baltimoreans were suffering from allergies, headaches and stress on Tuesday while allergies, fever and flu reigned across the country, in the San Francisco Bay area.

When zoomed in on the Sickweather map, users can see individual posts plotted on the map. When zoomed out, the map groups posts into orange, geometric clouds that show the most prevalent maladies in different areas.

“There are other sites that look to aggregate health data, but not in real time, and not with an eye towards forecasting and prevention,” said Michael Belt, a Sickweather co-founder and its chief technology officer.

Prevention can be simple.

“If you’re going out and the weather forecast is calling for rain, chances are you’ll take an umbrella with you,” said Dodge. “Likewise, if you know the flu is going around, you’ll do more to wash your hands when you’re out and take care of yourself a little bit better.”

Dodge, Belt and third co-founder James Sajor all graduated from Dulaney High School in Timonium but took very different paths to Sickweather.

Dodge, Sickweather’s CEO, is the marketing director at an accounting firm in Baltimore County. Sajor, the COO, built racecars and was a freelance musician in California before returning to Maryland. Belt runs a web development business.

Sickweather is headquartered in a storefront on Antique Row in Cockeysville in the space shared by Belt’s firm and an art studio run by his wife.

The company is refining its website and working on making the social media updates flow both ways, with users’ Sickweather updates posting to Twitter and Facebook.

Sickweather is also going mobile. Dodge, Belt and Sajor are working on an iPhone app that will be followed by similar software for Android and other mobile operating systems.

They hope to close their first round of fundraising in May. And in the meantime, Sickweather is enjoying a slice of the spotlight.

The site saw 30,000 unique visitors and 100,000 page views from November through the end of February and media outlets including Time, BBC News, MSNBC and Al Jazeera have taken notice.

“They represent the market. They represent what people are wanting to see,” said Sajor. “The market is awesome for this, for our site.”

by Kathy Snyder, CCE, President/CEO, Maryland Chamber of Commerce

With the overwhelming majority of Maryland-based businesses being small employers, the state has some incredible entrepreneurs. Help the Maryland Chamber of Commerce honor the best of these employers by nominating them for our annual Small Business Awards.

The 2012 finalists and winners will be recognized during the Small Business of the Year Awards Luncheon on Thursday, June 7, at The Hotel at Arundel Preserve. Charm City Cakes founder and “Ace of Cakes” star Duff Goldman will be the event’s keynote speaker.

Inspired by his work with a number of notable chefs in California, Colorado, and Washington, D.C., Goldman’s entrepreneurial spirit brought him back to Baltimore in 2000, where he finally realized his dream and opened Charm City Cakes… in his apartment. He wasn’t there for long, and, as demand for his cakes grew, he moved into a small bakery and then an even bigger location, a converted church in the Remington area of Baltimore.

Hearing Goldman talk about his own entrepreneurial experience will surely inspire our small business attendees. Wells Fargo is the sponsor of the event.

Where we need help now is with nominations. The deadline is coming soon! Nominations are due by Friday, March 30.

Nominees must be a member of the state or a local chamber of commerce, have a permanent business location and staff in Maryland, and have been in operation for a minimum of two years. The judging panel for the Small Business of the Year Awards program is comprised of representatives from Maryland’s business media. Nominees will be judged on their dedication, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.

Winners from last year’s program included Mountaintop Marketing Group of Silver Spring. Mountaintop Marketing is a full-service marketing, advertising and business development firm which has posted double-digit growth each year since its founding in 2006. It distinguished itself through innovation and creativity by developing an online portal in the government marketplace – FEDTube – designed to facilitate collaboration between government and industry, a novel approach for our winner in the 1-10 employee category.

Another winner last year was Trusant Technologies in the category of 11-50 employees. Based in Ellicott City, Trusant is a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business that provides information technology and construction management services. Trusant’s revenue and staff have grown every year since its inception in 2002. Over the last five years, revenues have grown 262 percent while the company racked up industry recognition by the likes of Baltimore SmartCEO, Inc. Magazine and the Department of Defense.

Our 2011 winner in the 51-200 employee category was Berkshire Associates, a human resources consulting and technology firm specializing in helping companies build the ideal, balanced workforce. The company provides the latest tools and consulting services for applicant management, compensation management, affirmative action, workforce planning, diversity and professional training. Since 2000, the company doubled its revenues to $6 million and its payroll to 53.

In addition, Clark Construction Group won our award in 2011 for being the best Partner to Small Business and the Maryland Food Bank was recognized as being the best Nonprofit Partner in Business. Nominations in these categories are also being accepted for 2012 awards.

Be sure to nominate your favorite small business or business partner for our awards. Go here for more information and to download the nomination forms.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDbizMedia

From a whirring hard drive in Tom Murdock’s living room in Timonium grew Moodlerooms, Inc.

The spinning drive told Murdock, then a high school English teacher, his students were logging in online to turn in assignments, read Murdock’s feedback and communicate with their instructor.

That experiment with a platform called Moodle blossomed into Moodlerooms, a Baltimore tech company with 85 employees, 1,000 clients across the country and a million end users.

“Our growth is explosive,” said Murdock, the co-founder and president of Moodlerooms.

The company supports the e-learning software that schools, universities and businesses use, and adds its own innovations in assessment, content management, interactivity and other areas on top of the open-source Moodle platform. Moodlerooms developers have also been working on a new product the company plans to roll out soon.

“I think we’ve succeeded in creating a whole new category of product, something that nobody else offers,” Murdock said. “We’re really thrilled about introducing that in the next couple months.”

Lou Pugliese, the company’s chairman and CEO, said the product “completely reinvents” e-learning design.

“E-learning and learning management systems are really only about 12 years old, but it’s the fastest growing technology in the history of education, quite frankly,” Pugliese said. “It’s very different now than when we built it in the late ‘90s. Educators and schools are looking for new types of applications. They’re looking for different designs.”

Moodlerooms was founded in 2005 after Murdock found himself running e-learning programs for other teachers, too.

Moodlerooms moved to Federal Hill two years ago.

Two years ago, Moodlerooms moved from the Emerging Technology Center to offices in Federal Hill, where most of the company’s 85 employees work. The Department of Business and Economic Development has invested $1.2 million in the company through the Maryland Venture Fund in the last six years.

Pugliese said he expects the staff to grow to 150 by the end of next year.

Moodle is the largest e-learning platform in the world, with a presence in more than 200 countries and 55 million end users. Moodlerooms is the platform’s largest service provider.

“Most institutions, higher ed and K-12, are looking to get into the open-source environment,” said Pugliese. “They’re looking to move off of proprietary platforms.”

The growth also reflects broader changes in technology that have put smartphones in students’ pockets and electronic communication tools, like social networking sites, on their screens. E-learning software allows educators to tailor instruction more closely to students’ needs while delivering the information in the mode to which students have become accustomed.

“It’s very difficult to reach an individual student. Every student learns differently. In a textbook classroom environment, it’s one size fits all. You either make it and understand it or you don’t,” said Pugliese. “What e-learning and digital content allows you to do is to redirect specific remediation activities to a student that doesn’t have the same kind of skill and competency that somebody else might have.”

InvestMaryland raised $84 million on Thursday to invest in small, high-tech Maryland businesses. Afterward, Christian Johansson, secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development, and Peter Greenleaf, president of MedImmune and chairman of the Maryland Venture Fund Authority, shared their thoughts on the highly successful auction and what’s next for the state-funded venture capital effort.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDbizMedia

The state raised $84 million Thursday to fuel InvestMaryland, the largest state-funded venture capital program effort in the Maryland’s history.

The money will be invested in young, high-tech companies in some of the most innovative sectors in Maryland, including the life sciences, information technology and green energy.

“Today was a huge haul for InvestMaryland,” said Christian Johansson, secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development. “This is a big day for entrepreneurs. This is a big day for Maryland.”

Maryland Venture Fund Authority members and staffers watch the results of a tax credit auction to fund the InvestMaryland venture capital program.

One-third of the money raised, or $28 million, will go to the state’s Maryland Venture Fund and two-thirds, $56 million, will be allocated to private venture capital firms to be invested in high-tech Maryland companies.

On successful investments by private venture firms, Maryland will recoup all of the principal and 80 percent of the profits.

The expected benefits, however, go beyond those returns.

“The last time we [seeded the Maryland Venture Fund], we only invested $25 million,” Johansson said. “That $25 million returned $61 million to taxpayers. On top of that, it created 2,000 jobs.”

(Companies that have benefited from Maryland Venture Fund investments include A&G Pharmaceutical Inc., Bambeco and Optoro Inc.)

Peter Greenleaf, president of Gaithersburg-based MedImmune and chairman of the Maryland Venture Fund Authority, which oversees InvestMaryland, said the “infusion of capital is going to make a real difference for companies in the state of Maryland.”

“The hunger and need for capital out there, all the way from seed level, all the way through the later-stage development companies is very, very high,” Greenleaf said. “The current economic environment, the economic environment over the last five years, has been toughest in some cases on some of our smaller, entrepreneurial companies.”

InvestMaryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s top economic proposal in 2011, was approved by the General Assembly last April. The legislation authorized the venture authority to auction off $100 million in tax credits to insurance companies and to use the proceeds to fuel the venture capital program.

Unsure of the appetite insurance companies would have for the credits, members of the venture fund authority only had to wait four minutes on Thursday.

The auction launched at 11 a.m. and by 11:04, insurance companies had bid on all $100 million in credits, most of them at the price floor of 70 cents on the dollar.

Then the price started to climb.

By 11:25, the price was 80 cents on the dollar and crept higher, even as bidding slowed.

The auction was extended by more than 12 minutes as insurance companies sought to clear the threshold and claim some of the credits.

In the end, 24 bidders made 47 bids. The final price: 84 cents on the dollar. The haul: $84 million for InvestMaryland.

Maryland was the first state to fill a venture capital fund by auctioning tax credits, Johansson said.

“If we would have gone with other approaches, we would have raised $14 million less, at a minimum,” he said.

DBED will solicit proposals from venture capital firms interested in participating in the program starting March 20.

The authority will recommend venture firms to the department in May. The allocations of investment capital to venture firms and the first investments will be made in June.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDbizMedia

Maryland’s run of strong, private-sector job growth continued in January. As researchers with the Department of Business and Economic Development pore over the data, here’s an early look at some takeaways from Maryland and the region in the jobs data released on Tuesday.

-Maryland’s unemployment rate was 6.5 percent in January, 13th lowest in the country.

-The jobless rate was down from 7.3 percent one year ago.

-The 5,000 jobs added by Maryland were good for a growth rate of 0.2 percent, 32nd nationwide.

-Of the jobs added from December to January, 4,900 were private sector jobs.

-Virginia’s unemployment rate was 5.8 percent in January.

-Virginia added 2,300 jobs in January, a 0.1 percent growth rate, 36th in the country.

-Since employment hit its recession-era low in February 2010, Maryland has regained 100,500 of the jobs it lost.

-That 69.5 percent recovery rate is 7th best in the country. The national recovery rate is 36.7 percent.

-Maryland gained 39,800 jobs over the past year, a growth rate of 1.6 percent, the 10th best growth rate in the country.

-Of those jobs gains, Maryland has added 32,600 private sector jobs.

-The biggest private sector growth has come from health care and social assistance (7,900 jobs), leisure and hospitality (6,500), professional and business services (5,800) and construction (4,700).

-Virginia has added 41,100 jobs over the past year. That 1.1 percent growth rate is 25th in the country.