The Northeastern Maryland University Research Park Corporation, initiated in 2009 and officially chartered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2011, continues moving forward trying to create a symbiotic and sustainable region where the best minds and labs in the country can work, live and learn.
President B. Daniel “Danny” DeMarinis leads the charge in laying the plans for the new university research park to capitalize on the region’s access to I-95 and APG along with an active board of directors and a group of advisors across integral industries.
A new study recently published in August 2013 gives further insight into the necessary components required to make the vision a reality. The study, “Advancing the Aberdeen Proving Ground Region’s Technology Hub: A Feasibility Assessment and Action Plan for a University Research Park Initiative,” was prepared by the Technology Partnership Practice at Battelle in collaboration with Chesapeake Science & Security Corridor under contract with Harford County, Maryland, and with financial support from the Office of Economic Adjustment, Department of Defense. The TPP is the economic development consulting arm of Battelle, the world’s largest independent non-profit research and development organization.
“The study was funded by the Office of Economic Adjustment and supported as a follow on to the growth the APG Region experienced as a result of BRAC 2005,” says Karen Holt, Regional, BRAC Manager, APG-CSSC Regional BRAC Office. “With a highly skilled workforce paramount to mission success at APG, opportunities to meet advanced degree needs and look for higher education collaboration in research and development is now more critical than ever before.”
The study unveils several challenges that align with other findings from the previous report, “Accelerating University Talent Development and Research & Development Partnerships at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG),” prepared for the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore and Chesapeake Science & Security Corridor in November 2012. In that study, the executive summary states, “An independent, fact based assessment of the business case advancing a strong university resource presence in Northeastern Maryland finds a strong value proposition for Aberdeen Proving Ground organizations and specific opportunities for advancing university collaborations. This is matched by a rich complex of universities within 90 minutes of Aberdeen that align strongly with the technology focus areas and emerging opportunity areas found across APG organizations for which closer proximity can be advanced.” The study outlined the key areas of opportunity where there is currently an unmet need and the types of academic relationships necessary to provide the solutions.
The study identified five specific opportunities that call for university-related talent and research collaborations that would benefit from proximity to APG, including:
• System of systems network development that goes to the promise of C4ISR full life cycle development
• Cybersecurity talent connections and applied research collaborations
• Systems biology tying together ongoing efforts in genomics and proteomics
• High performance computing for modeling
• Incubating material sciences solutions
According to the study, “these specific opportunities would each engage multiple organizations at APG and so have critical mass and broad impact.” But, as the research also indicates, the universities surrounding APG are reluctant to further their relationships because of sustainable funding, lack of active engagement by APG researchers “on the ground,” and the ability to provide more diverse and advanced degree and certificates programs.
One of the key findings and opportunities from this study was that while APG is well served by the talent and scholarly activity at the universities in the broader Aberdeen region, there is currently no mechanism across the organizations at APG to advance collaborative approaches with universities on talent development and R&D.
Based on these and other findings, the Technology Partnership Practice at Battelle set out to define the structure and composition of a way to implement the URP in the new Feasibility Study.
“This URP initiative served as the second phase of our study as the CSSC first looked at APG Talent Development and R&D Partnerships with higher education, and then looked to assess the feasibility and develop a business model for a University Research Park concept,” adds Holt.
The new analysis points to three interelated challenges confronting the APG Region, which must be addressed as part of the University Research Park Initiative.
• Growing the regional technology industry base in Aberdeen;
• Advancing workforce development to meet the demands by technology industry and APG organizations; and
• Fostering “live, work, play” development to create a higher value physical environment to align with the commercial Class A office developments taking place in the region.
The three-pronged approach may have been a surprise to many. “I think many envisioned a bricks and mortar outcome; something very finite and tangible,” admits Holt. “What came out of the study was an economic development plan with a longer term vision to create a sense of place, develop a technology district and establish clusters for various sectors of R&D.”
The report maintains that though these three distinct areas need focused attention, progress and work needs to happen simultaneously for success in any one area.
“I was surprised at the flattening out of the region’s growth,” admits DeMarinis after reading the report. “BRAC grew the region significantly and early in 2005 with respect to technical jobs, but it flattened out after a few years.”
There are 12 universities conducting research within 90 minutes of APG, with a combined total research and development spending of $3 billion in 2010.
Every job in a research park generates an average 2.57 jobs in the economy.
The APG Region is evolving more along the lines of a technology district with technology hubs rather than a traditional contiguous research park.
The report explains that the APG region experienced a 26.9 percent growth in technology-industry jobs over the 10-year period of 2001-2011, substantial when compared to 11.6 percent for Baltimore MSA and -5.9 percent for the U.S. average. But, after the immediate gains through 2007, there has been significant decline from its peak levels and since the severe recession, it has not regained that growth.
In fact, the study states, that while technology-based industry employment at the national level realized only a modest decline over the 2007 to 2011 period of 2.1 percent, the APG region was well off its peak of 10,446 jobs recorded in 2007, standing at 8,587 jobs in 2011, a decline of 18 percent over the 2007 to 2011 period.
Not surprisingly, the initial and anticipated growth of companies slated to bring those jobs to the APG region led to a flurry of construction of Commercial Class A office space. In 2005, there was 161,000 square feet of Class A Office Space compared to 1.4 million square feet in 2012. However, the majority of that new space, approximately 1.12 million square feet, became available after 2007 when the demand declined, leaving an abundance of inventory. While a weakness to the current overall economic landscape, the availability means there is an opportunity for immediate occupancy in attracting new industry and establishing university relationships. A closer examination reveals a more challenging dilemma to the “live, work, play” recommendation. The current available space is scattered in multiple office parks along Routes 22 and 40 and lacks the amenities and housing directly associated with a traditional “live, work, play” scenario. Closer mixed-use developments like those in White Marsh and Delaware make the APG region less competitive. The James
Run Corporate Campus planned for Riverside, the next closest mixed-used development outside Water’s Edge Corporate Campus that would offer all three elements, has yet to break ground. Given this lack of cohesiveness, the report suggests moving the URP forward by thinking in terms of a technology district and concentrating on adding the “live” and “play” elements to the existing “work” sites.
The report outlines six activities and objectives to set the recommendations in motion including which organization would have governance.
DeMarinis see the timeframe as a major challenge. “It will be critical to make further and significant progress in the near term,” he says. “As a result we [NEMD URP] plan to hit the ground running with efforts to address the many URP study recommendations. I see the necessity of further collaboration in a timely manner of the NEMD URP with Harford’s Office of Economic Development, its Economic Development Advisory Board, Cecil County’s Office of Economic Development and its Economic Development Commission, the new University Center, TEDCO, and the Harford’s Business Incubation Center among others.
“Our first step is defining joint activities with TEDCO and the University Center. With the UC, we are defining a formal partnership to work together in the higher education domain to bring increased higher education/university resources to the community. With TEDCO we are looking into bringing further innovation services to include a technology conference/working sessions to our region to be better able to pursue R&D opportunities, to encourage technology transition, and to define funding opportunities for both universities and high technology firms etc.”
The report concludes that to make this initiative successful, it needs to be an economic priority with support from the entire Aberdeen Region. For Harford County, it is recommended that the Economic Development Advisory Board oversee it and immediately establish performance measures to ensure things are progressing in a timely manner. Jim Richardson, Director, Harford County Office of Economic Development, and Eric McLauchlin, Chairman of EDAB, concur.
“The Economic Development Advisory Board is an ideal environment for coordinating the many pieces into a unified image,” stated Richardson in a message in the EDAB eNewsletter. “To begin this effort, on Nov. 1, EDAB will be one of the participating partners in ‘Connect Harford,’ an event for business and community leaders and influencers. ‘Connect Harford’ will offer these leaders a forum to provide input on and interact about what they’d like to see the region become as it matures. The event will be a data-collection occasion, with instant polling and thought-leadership opportunities. It is designed to help create and communicate a clear vision for everyone, so we can nourish the needs of a community that wants to grow up.” McLauchlin adds, “EDAB is going to be taking a coordinating role with moving the community forward based on the establishment of this common vision. Look for upcoming articles that explore the various sections of the University Research Park Feasibility Study and Business Plan Development in-depth, focusing on land use, technology and higher education.”