Tech firms find space in Maryland

As Virginia area runs out of room, companies move up

July 22, 2000|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Just beyond the biotech-heavy Interstate 270 corridor sits 450 acres of dirt that developers say will be the state's next high-technology business hub.

Millennium Development Group and MIE Properties Inc. broke ground yesterday on Riverside Corporate Park, a one-time farm in the city of Frederick. Soon it will have new highway connectors, a fiber-optic network, multiple power sources, and, if all goes well, its first committed tenant.

As congestion builds in Northern Virginia and the economy continues to fuel business expansion, Maryland's developers and public officials are trying to steer more tech companies and their high-paying jobs to spots around the state.

While there is no specific definition of a technology park, at least two dozen developments use the description. Additional tech parks are planned, according to the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

Secretary Richard C. Mike Lewin sees the greatest number of high-tech companies finding their way to the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

Seven business incubators also are nurturing start-ups that should need space.

"The future is up the I-95 and I-295 corridors," he said. "It's coming out of Washington, past the University of Maryland and to the city of Baltimore."

Lewis Bolan, a commercial real estate consultant at Bolan Smart Associates, has studied the market for high-tech office space. He agreed that the state is on the cusp of a major boom in high-tech company growth.

Bolan said Baltimore and Maryland are still second-tier in terms of locations behind such leaders as Northern Virginia, Boston and Silicon Valley. But high-tech and bio-tech companies are being lured by research universities, including Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland.

These companies that focus on information technology, software development and telecommunications, among other areas, have specific space requirements. Some need high ceilings, truck access and extra wiring. Other companies, dominated by young, well-paid and sophisticated techies, are looking for unique and flexible environments with lots of amenities.

"Baltimore has an inventory of wonderful old industrial buildings that can be converted to tech use," Bolan said. "That really bodes well for the future. In this region, until now, it's been Northern Virginia that's been gobbling up jobs and employers in technology."

Outside the city, the companies want a campus environment among other high-tech companies. There, they get better rents, free parking and all they need to sustain them for long hours of work. Frederick, he said, is slightly off the beaten I-270 path, but the size and planned amenities will help.

Riverside's developers said they could attract tech companies and traditional office users with tech needs to the 450-acre campus with extras such as restaurants, day-care and hotel and meeting space. Now, an estimated 35,000 people commute out of the Frederick area for work.

"These poor tech guys work 24-7, so you have to bring a lot of stuff to them," said T. Wesley Poss, co-managing member of the Millennium Group. "We talked to employers about what they would want."

The first projects in the park will be two buildings developed by MIE Properties, which bought 44 acres within the park. The group plans to create the six-building, 500,000-square-foot Riverside Technology Park. Construction will begin in September with no committed tenants, although they're expected to fill in within a year of completion.

"Everyone wants to be in Northern Virginia, but there's not enough space," said Gigi Wagner, a partner at MIE. "That promotes a secondary market."

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