UM efforts bring high-tech industry to Maryland Connections with school prove vital in attracting three companies


COLLEGE PARK - The University of Maryland is working to develop the College Park Metro site as a center for high-tech business.

School officials decided that it made sense to bring high-tech firms to the area, since many have natural links with the university community, said Brian Darmody, a university adviser on economic development. The school's plan, approved by university President William E. Kirwan last April, also means that well-paying jobs in the high-tech industry will continue to move -- into Prince George's County.

High-tech businesses and organizations that have gravitated to the area include the American Center for Physics, the Riggs Bank Technology Center and the U.S. headquarters of Q-Labs, a Swedish software engineering firm.

In addition, an $84 million Food and Drug Administration building and laboratory is under construction in College Park and is scheduled for completion in 1999.

School connections vital

Connections with the school were vital in three of those moves.

For instance, Q-Labs has cooperated for several years on telecommunications research with Dr. Victor Basili, who teaches the school's computer science department.

Eleanor Rutland, a vice president of Riggs, is a University of Maryland alumna and was key to bringing the bank's technology center to College Park.

The FDA was attracted to the College Park site at least in part because of a cooperative agreement with the university, Darmody said.

The agreement calls for the FDA and the university to share scientific instruments and laboratory spaces, rather than each having to purchase items separately.

Although the strategic plan was implemented only last year, the university's efforts to promote high-tech job growth go back much further, Darmody said.

The school's interest goes back at least to the 1980s, when the site for the Metro was selected, Darmody said. "I would have been surprised if it wasn't in the strategic plan," he said.

Since 1985, the university's Engineering Research Center has helped launch 30 to 40 high-tech businesses with its Technology Advancement Program.

"Entrepreneurs from all over," including several of the school's alumni and faculty, apply for help from the program, said TAP's acting director, Edward Sybert.

Each proposal for a high-tech business is reviewed, and, if approved, is placed in an "incubator" on campus, Sybert said.

Incubation period

During the three- to four-year incubation period, the start-up business is housed in campus facilities and given help with planning and development by campus professors.

Then the new business is on its own. Digene Diagnostics in Beltsville and Bioserve Biotechnologies in Laurel are "graduates" TAP, Sybert said.

In addition to the efforts in College Park, Prince George's Community College has developed an outreach program to work with new and existing high-tech businesses in the county.

Dr. Patricia Cunniff, director of the college's Science and Technology Resource Center, has established a task force of representatives from 35 local high-tech businesses.

The task force will help the school more effectively design programs and classes to give students the skills they will need to work at high-tech firms, Cunniff said.

Efforts by schools such as the University of Maryland and Prince George's Community College, as well as Bowie State University and Capital College, serve as a magnet to draw high-tech business into the area, said Dennis Murphy, president of the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp.

In addition, government facilities such as the future FDA center, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture research center in Beltsville often "spin off" high-tech, private-sector jobs to support those facilities, Murphy said.

Their efforts could help to offset Maryland's loss of high-tech jobs in defense electronics. A recent survey showed that 7,382 manufacturing jobs in defense electronics were lost in Maryland from 1990 to 1995.

! Pub Date: 4/06/97

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