A recent marriage of business and education in Harford County is expected to help attract high technology businesses to a new 95-acre office complex not far from Aberdeen Proving Ground.
At the same time, it will bring greater opportunities to earn college degrees closer to home for Harford residents.
"We want to meet the pent-up demand for baccalaureate and graduate study in this part of the state," said W. Stephen Pannill, interim president of Harford Community College.
Beginning in the fall, several Baltimore-area colleges and universities, in conjunction with Harford Community College, will bring programs in business administration, engineering and education to a 12-acre campus that is part of the new Higher Education and Applied Technology (HEAT) Center on Route 22 off Interstate 95.
Evening, weekend and daytime classes will be held in a nearly completed 10,300-square-foot, one-story brick building with a signature octagonal tower that is the first structure to be built at the state-owned HEAT Center site.
Planning for a second academic building is expected to begin in the fall.
The cost of the $1.5 million building was divided between Harford and the state. The county has invested an additional $300,000 as it begins to equip the building with some of the latest computer technologies.
County planners hope that a better-educated county work force will encourage applied technology and research and development businesses to move to the business portion of the site near Aberdeen Proving Ground. The planners hope that some of the companies will do business with the Army at APG.
"Higher education is crucial to the strength of economic development in the northeast region of the state," said Denise Carnaggio, economic development coordinator for Harford County. "It enhances our ability to attract and retain businesses. There is a tremendous need for continuing education."
Studies have shown that when companies move, they look at the educational credentials of the work force and the availability of training programs, Ms. Carnaggio said.
Many Harford residents have started college but have not earned bachelor's degrees because of the lack of a four-year institution in the county and the inconvenience of commuting to colleges elsewhere.
Now, students who have completed their freshman and sophomore years and fulfilled any prerequisites will be able to take upper-division courses and earn a bachelor's degree from one of several four-year institutions offering programs at the HEAT Center. Graduate studies also will be offered.
Agreements have been signed with Loyola College to offer two master's programs in business administration and with Morgan State University for a bachelor's degree in engineering, Mr. Pannill said. The Morgan State program was announced last week.
Towson State University is expected to sign an agreement March 27 to offer a graduate degree in education. Mr. Pannill said he is confident that students at the HEAT Center will soon be able to register with the University of Baltimore for bachelor's degree programs in criminal justice and language, technology and culture, and with the University of Maryland at Baltimore for a graduate nursing degree program.
Through the "HEAT initiative," Harford Community College is acting as a "broker for higher education," negotiating agreements with other institutions to offer programs at the Aberdeen site, Mr. Pannill said.
"We are bringing in some of the best programs from around the state," Mr. Pannill said. "We want to use the site as a catalyst to create new opportunities."
The College of Notre Dame of Maryland, which has offered a weekend college at Harford Community College for three years, will continue to offer baccalaureate programs in business administration, elementary education and nursing at the campus Bel Air as part of the HEAT project.
Discussions are being conducted with other area colleges and universities to add more programs, Mr. Pannill said.
Planning for the HEAT Center began in the late 1980s through a partnership comprising Harford Community College, the Harford County government, the city of Aberdeen and the Maryland State Transportation Authority, with assistance from Aberdeen Proving Ground and Cecil Community College.
The first office building at the site could be completed as early as the end of the year, said Paul Gilbert, the county director of economic development.
A developer for the building, which will include about 50,000 square feet of space for offices, laboratories and manufacturing, will be selected this spring. Groundbreaking could be in June.
"We know there is a substantial demand for office research and development space," Mr. Gilbert said. Eventually, the site might include nearly 1 million square feet of office space.