Economic good news is a scarce commodity in Annapolis these days, but the latest addition to the University of Maryland's research park in Bowie gives state officials reasons to cheer. If all goes as planned, the U.S. Census Bureau will install a supercomputer on a 446-acre tract in eastern Prince George's County, a move that takes the state a big step closer toward creating an information technology hub at UM's Bowie park.
The import of this deal goes beyond the 100 jobs it is expected to generate. The Census Bureau installation, combined with the research park's only other tenant, the Institute for Defense Analysis, could generate the kind of critical mass that leads to high-paying jobs and attracts companies eager to tap into this kind of information. An anticipated fiber-optic link with UM's College Park campus would give university researchers and private firms access to the supercomputer's data banks in off-peak hours. Eventually, UM expects to build its own facility nearby.
This is the kind of resource that Maryland needs to pursue an economic development strategy based on attracting core industries. None of this is nailed down yet. So far, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Prince George's County, who serves on the key Appropriations Committee, has convinced Congress to spend $2.7 million for initial design of the $27 million computer complex in Bowie. The rest will have to be won in next year's budget wars.
Nonetheless, the congressional appropriation -- and a $1.5 million grant from the state -- are seeds for an important initiative that could put Maryland on the map in supercomputing. Already, state economic development officials are looking to convince NASA suppliers displaced by the agency's expansion at the Goddard Space Flight Center to relocate in the park.
Maryland's long-term economic health depends on its ability to attract and retain vibrant, growing industries, such as the bustling life sciences-information technology firms in Montgomery County and the biotechnology companies concentrated in Howard County and Anne Arundel County. The planned Census Bureau installation in Bowie is a welcome addition.