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UMBC seeking enterprise zone to help tenants at business park

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County is asking the Maryland Department of Commerce to designate its research-and-development business park an enterprise zone, making tenants eligible for state tax credits for adding jobs and improving buildings.

The Regional Institution Strategic Enterprise Zone program was started by the state legislature in 2014 as a way for institutions and local governments to attract businesses and create jobs in designated zones. If approved, the zone at UMBC it would be the first in Baltimore County.

Businesses in the RISE Zone can apply for property tax credits for building construction or improvements and a $1,000 state income tax credit for each new job created.

County Councilman Tom Quirk, a Democrat whose district includes UMBC, said the campus business park is a hub for economic activity.

He said the designation could attract more emerging businesses to the campus, joining the about 130 companies whose work includes information technology, life sciences, biotechnology and engineering.

The business park bwtech@UMBC opened its south campus in Halethorpe in 1996 and its north campus in Catonsville in 2001.

The south complex is owned by the Maryland Economic Development Corp., which leases the land and buildings to UMBC.

At the north complex, two buildings are owned by Merritt Properties and two are owned by Corporate Office Properties Trust, according to Ellen Hemmerly, executive director bwtech@UMBC.

The property tax credit benefit could go to the entity paying the taxes — building owners at bwtech North, UMBC at bwtech South — and benefits the tenants in the form of reduced rent, Hemmerly said.

The incubator is almost at capacity, according to Greg Simmons, UMBC's vice president of institutional advancement, but businesses come in and out of the space as they grow, leaving plenty of opportunity for recruitment. Hemmerly said UMBC likes to leave some space open for companies to expand.

The university has no immediate plans for expansion of bwtech@UMBC, though its south campus, which has three of the business park's eight buildings, has room for an additional building, Simmons said.

Simmons said the RISE Zone could be an incentive for developers to build and employers to bring jobs to the area.

"It's a way to attract promising entrepreneurs to launch projects in the state connected to a research university, to help the region be more competitive," he said.

Quirk said there is no impact on Baltimore County tax revenue, as there is no immediate property development planned.

The county council is expected to approve a resolution to support UMBC's request for the zone next week. If approved, Simmons said he hopes state approval would happen and credits would be made available to employers in the next few months.

Two other RISE Zones in the state are at the University of Maryland in Baltimore and University of Maryland, College Park.

The designation lasts for five years, with a possible renewal for five more years. Counties and municipalities are limited to a maximum of three RISE Zones apiece.

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