- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The push is on to begin moving the region’s economy away from its heavy reliance on the federal government and the military. A few news items on the local front in the past week should offer assurances that that goal is being taken seriously.
Reported this week is a new program — the Charles County Innovation Center — that aims to help create technology startups that can take advantage of the resources currently available at local military installations, mainly at the U.S. Navy bases in Indian Head and Patuxent River. This new business incubator is being launched by the Energetics Technology Center in Waldorf and already has been greeted with much enthusiasm by local elected officials and members of the business community. Officials are excited because of the potential it has for long-term job growth. It is modeled after a successful program in Baltimore. The incubator will at first focus on Charles County, but officials hope the work will spread into Calvert and St. Mary’s, surely making it an important part of the recently announced Southern Maryland Vision 2020.
More good news came last week. It was announced that in the next several years, according to the current timetable, a third academic building will be added to the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center in California. The construction will be overseen by the University System of Maryland, and promises to be the beginning of a more active presence in Southern Maryland for the system that oversees most of the state’s public colleges.
The hope is that this third building will be the nucleus of a new university-backed research park, which would both offer a range of academic degrees tied to the high-tech work associated with the bases and help expand that work into the civilian realm, much like the Charles business incubator would do. The university would oversee a business incubator there. Paired with this might be an innovation center for civilian development of autonomous systems — that means unmanned aerial vehicles — as well as unmanned ground vehicles and robots. This might be overseen by the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance, which is made up largely of military contracting companies, where many UAVs have been developed for military use.
The University of Maryland — the flagship of the university system’s public colleges — is taking the leading role in developing a proposal to have the state win one of six Federal Aviation Administration areas approved for civilian use of UAVs. If that’s successful, the research park in St. Mary’s would get an enormous boost.
But Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s), who chairs the House of Delegate’s Education and Economic Development Subcommittee and encouraged the University System of Maryland’s interest in expanding its presence in the region, says these plans are not exclusively dependent on winning the FAA designation. The development of autonomous systems for civilian use is a future growth industry and offers opportunities for the region.
Whether or not all this works out as smoothly and as quickly as hoped, it is a concrete push to diversify the economy here. The U.S. Navy’s presence will likely remain the bedrock for that economy, but this is a step to having the region’s citizens less dependent on the whims of Congress.
This is the fastest-growing region in the state, and has been for some time. Having business people and representatives of the state’s universities recognize this and see untapped potential in the exceptional concentration of scientific and technical talent here is a kind of breakthrough.