The University of Maryland, hoping to create its own version of California's "Silicon Valley," is planning a large and expensive high-tech industrial research park near Bowie.
Officials hope to catch the new wave of the micro-circuit computer industry, and attract other "clean" and intensive office-based business to turn a 465-acre site into a half-billion-dollar, multistoried complex.
"We think, given our proposed location here right on the doorstep of the nation's capital and one of the major power centers of the world, that we can put together a research park that would be unequalled any place in the country," said university Vice President Robert G. Smith.
But for now, the site remains a cow pasture.
In fact, although the zoning was approved last year, construction is still about two years away, and officials reckon it will be 10 to 15 years before the grove of office towers and laboratories is complete.
Currently, the University of Maryland Foundation, a private organization through which the university is coordinating the project, is reviewing new development proposals after the corporate officials at the beleaguered Cadillac-Fairview Corp., a Canadian developer originally selected to handle the project, backed out last year.
Maryland is one of a growing number of large universities seeking arrangements that will bring technology firms close to campus, and thereby halt the exodus of valuable faculty to high-salaried industrial research jobs at more distant locations.
With science parks close by, the schools also gain a selling point, both for attracting new, accomplished faculty and top-notch students, and for launching mutually beneficial cooperative research projects and student intern programs.
State and local officials also are eager to boost the tax base and employment opportunities.
"We have had high technology as a major element in our marketing in the last year," said James O. Roberson, Maryland secretary of economic and community development. "If the university is able to become a magnet for this type of industry, that's something that would benefit us greatly."
Competition among schools setting up similar science-park arrangements is becoming intense, leading officials to talk up their own campus' particular specialties. Johns Hopkins, for instance, is seeking to attract compatible private business to a small site adjacent to its applied physics lab in Columbia, Roberson noted. In Maryland's case, university adminstrators point to its nationally prominent computer science, engineering, physics and biomedical programs.
"I don't see any point in trying to compete with Silicon Valley," Smith said, referring to the computer-chip industry that sprang up near Stanford University in Santa Clara County in recent years. "They've developed enormous resources in the semiconductor industry.
"There's going to be some kind of a new function--I have a feeling it's going to be computer software engineering--that will be a growth industry the way Silicon Valley was," Smith said. "And this is the natural area for it."
Already the university has established various cooperative research programs, including engineering programs with Fairchild Industries and NASA, and applied biotechnology with Litton Industries and E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., which is working closely with the university's medical school in Baltimore on the application of interferon, a drug believed to have some curing effects on types of cancer.
Smith said the idea at the University of Maryland is to "stand on the shoulders" of college-affiliated corporate parks elsewhere.
According to a study by Greenhorne & O'Mara Inc., the firm that presented the science park's zoning application, highly successful technology parks, starting with Silicon Valley, grew out of an interest in keeping top students from leaving the university area. A former head of Stanford's engineering department, Fredrick Terman, encouraged his students to start their own industries nearby, which resulted in the birth of Hewlett-Packard Co. and Varian Associates. The small firms then brought in larger ones, including International Business Machines Corp., the study stated.
In North Carolina, a place known as Research Triangle was started in the late 1950s in the Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill area, according to the study, to draw on the resources of the University of North Carolina, Duke University and North Carolina State University.
"Rather than development controlled by a department in a university, it is controlled by an independent corporation with all income accruing to the three universities," the report said.
And in Princeton University's Forrestal Center 10 miles north of Trenton, N.J., Xerox Corp., IBM and RCA Communications set up shop on a campus that included housing, offices and a conference center. The buildings on the site in 1980 were estimated worth $100 million, the report said.
In each case, the parks offer jobs and internships for students, employment for university researchers and economic support for the local jurisdictions.
Smith said that the Prince George's County Council approved zoning for Maryland's site last year, granting a special zoning designation that allows flexible development as plans materialize later.
The state obtained as part of the zoning approval language that would protect the Patuxent River, which borders the property to the east. Only offices, labs, clinics and small convenience shops are allowed; heavy industry, railroad and truck stations, and warehousing are forbidden.
University officials expect to announce a developer next month.