Prince George’s County works to lure science and tech jobs with incentives

Prince George’s County lawmakers are considering a measure to create a special business district that officials say would improve the county’s ability to lure science and technology jobs through incentive programs.

The proposed science and technology district covers a large portion of northwestern Prince George’s that includes College Park, Greenbelt and Beltsville.

“Other jurisdictions in our region have done a good job of branding their area and putting in tax incentives and really focusing their efforts,” said County Council member Eric Olson (D-College Park), the measure’s chief sponsor. “We need to make sure that Prince George’s County gets on the map for this.”

The area considered for the district is already a center for climatology, space industries, and agriculture-related sciences. In Greenbelt, there is NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, a major research laboratory established in 1959. Just a few miles away in College Park is the new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center for Weather and Climate Prediction, a world-class center considered the backbone of weather and climate prediction for the nation.

The area also is home to the University of Maryland, the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center and a 110-acre site where Howard University plans to develop a research park.

“We want to harness these institutions to try to get more private jobs in this area,” Olson said.

A council committee approved the measure earlier this month and the full council is expected to vote on it Tuesday. Some council members expressed concern about how spread out the proposed district is and others questioned why some facilities, including Joint Base Andrews were left out. But generally, council members appear widely supportive of the special district, which they say could make Prince George’s more competitive for science and technology jobs now going to Montgomery County and its Interstate 270 technology corridor.

The creation of the business district will allow the county to provide tax incentives, streamline permitting and approvals, and eventually increase economic development, county officials said.

U-Md. President Wallace D. Loh said in a letter of support that the county’s incentives and tools, together with other state programs, can help keep more U-Md. start-up companies in Prince George’s, and attract other resources to the area, including the FBI headquarters the county is trying to lure to a site in Greenbelt.

Supporters, including the city of College Park, say the district will foster collaboration among public, private and academic interests.

The draft of the county’s master plan 2035 identifies the area proposed for the special district as an “innovation cluster” with the potential to be an economic engine for the county, planner Kipling Reynolds told council members this month.

David S. Iannucci, a top economic development aide to County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), said the district will boost the county’s economic development efforts focusing on attracting key industry sectors and expanding the county’s tax base.

“It is completely consistent with our long-term vision for growing the economy of Prince George’s County,” he said.

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Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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