From the Harford County Economic Development Advisory Board:
Harford County’s history is rich in agriculture, farm land and horses. While area natives remember the rolling meadows and long stretches of open roadway leading to the next farm, recent residents see the County’s growth in agriculture, business, military, education and health care. Newcomers hope to find an environment here that allows for living, working and playing.
The University Research Park Feasibility Study and Business Plan Development, commissioned by the Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor (CSSC), hit home on this concept. The study recommended three significant development areas for the County: land use, technology and higher education. As we launch discussions of “branding” Harford County, these areas will be evolving simultaneously to support a local technology base within the County’s infrastructure.
The URP study recommended several ways to address the physical “Live, Work, Play” environment with the most prominent solutions being transportation and mixed-use communities. Based on the rationale that current office spaces are both scattered and have high vacancy rates, the study recommended advancing transit-oriented mixed-use development hubs for growing the region’s technology district. If we fail to provide more mixed-use development in the APG region, we will be less competitive than our neighbors in Washington, DC and Delaware. The study referred to two role models: the Dayton Downtown Technology District in Dayton, OH, which links housing, restaurants and other amenities, and Cummings Research Park in Huntsville, AL, which sports a new lifestyle center and uses nearly 4,000 acres for a research park.
These successful technology communities created mixed-use developments, and they showed that an environment designed for “live, work, play” attracted professionals to the region. For example, Dayton’s Tech Town began with an infrastructure plan anchored by the University of Dayton’s Research Institute. They then added the Institute for the Development and Commercialization of Advanced Sensor Technology, the RFID Convergence Center, The Entrepreneur Center, and the National Composite Center. Ultimately, Tech Town will encompass 400,000 square feet of office and research space for 2,500 new jobs. Residents of Tech Town can walk from their unique neighborhoods to shopping, performing arts, sports venues, parks, schools and health care. In addition, Tech Town has over 200 acres of yet-to-be developed land.
Similarly, Cummings Research Park in Huntsville, AL, prides itself on its mixed use development. Started on just 150 acres over 50 years ago, it now boasts 175 buildings with 9.5 million square feet of space on 4,000 acres. Over 300 companies and 25,000 workers call Cummings Research Park their professional and personal home. In close proximity to the University of Alabama, the nearby Bridge Street Town Center offers 550,000 square feet of retail space, plus apartments, condominiums and Class A office buildings. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle was quoted as saying, “Year after year, the Research Park has brought in high-tech sector jobs and above average pay. It’s been the foundation of our economic development.”
Importantly, the URP study showed that if Harford County overlooks a mixed use development in the APG region, our “efforts to promote the growth of technology industry development and to attract STEM-related workforce will be hampered.” The study proposes several mixed use developments to accommodate the scattered office spaces already housing existing companies. Planned transit developments would offer walkable communities with easy access to housing, retail, restaurants and recreation. If possible, they would be linked with bicycle and pedestrian paths as part of the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway and East Coast Greenway. We already have the anchor education centers of Harford Community College, Towson University and the University Center – Northeastern Maryland Higher Education Center (formerly HEAT Center). We also have the infrastructure to support entrepreneurs and small businesses, as well as larger corporations.
In theory, the planned communities would be supported by the local governments in partnership with County and state governments, as well as investments from the private sector. These mixed use communities would not only develop the technology base of the region by attracting workers, but they would also impact the housing, retail and education base. The decisions we make on branding the land now will affect the economic condition of our County moving forward. We can build a vibrant technology and education community based on what we know works – a place where people can live, work and play. It will be a place that newcomers and natives alike can call “home.”
Note: Next month’s article will focus on the technology recommendations of the University Research Park Feasibility Study and Business Plan Development. Complete study results and recommendations can be found at www.harfordbusiness.org and www.cssc-apg.com.