Council Member Pitches Bethesda or Silver Spring USM Campus

Council Member Pitches Bethesda or Silver Spring USM Campus

Riemer says innovation center needed to improve technology industry

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Hans Riemer

Dan Schere

A Montgomery County Council member wants to bring a University System of Maryland (USM) campus to downtown Bethesda or Silver Spring to attract more technology companies to the county.

Council member Hans Riemer said Tuesday during a forum on the future of Bethesda that he would like the university system to build another campus in the county.

The University System of Maryland already operates The Universities at Shady Grove (USG) in the Rockville area. USG is a satellite USM campus, offering undergraduate and graduate degree programs from nine USM schools. This fall, USG will open a new 220,000-square-foot Biomedical Sciences and Engineering building.

USG Executive Director Stewart Edelstein said he wasn’t  aware of Riemer’s idea, but agreed that more needs to be done to bolster technology and entrepreneurship.

Edelstein said he generally supports efforts by universities to bring more technology companies to Montgomery County, but said USG would not be involved in any current efforts.

“Those activities would be important to Montgomery County. We need those things to be done by our universities. USG at the present time isn’t able to do those things,” he said.

Riemer said Montgomery County is falling behind Northern Virginia on job growth.

He pointed to a recent study by the George Mason University-based Stephen S. Fuller Institute, an economic think tank. The study says that out of 35,000 jobs created in the Washington region in 2018, only 4,700 were created in Montgomery and Frederick counties.

The study looked at the region as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, which includes Northern Virginia, the District of Columbia and the Maryland counties of Montgomery, Frederick, Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert

“If that is a trend, that is a crisis for Montgomery County. The numbers are absolutely astounding,” Riemer said.

Bisnow, which published online newsletters, hosted the forum at the Bethesda Marriott.

In November, Amazon announced that it planned to locate its new HQ 2 headquarters in Crystal City, Virginia.

Part of Virginia’s incentives package involved Virginia Tech’s construction of a satellite innovation campus for graduate students. Riemer said the Virginia Tech campus should serve as a model for how Montgomery County should approach economic development.

“We need to figure out how we can build the tech talent pipeline just as Northern Virginia very persuasively did. We’ve got the ability to do that too. We’ve to go follow through on the vision,” he said.

Riemer, in an interview Tuesday with Bethesda Beat after the forum, said his vision was “aspirational” and there were no plans at this point to build such an urban campus in Montgomery County. But the county needs to think about how to best use its institutions of higher learning, he said.

“The key to the tech economies is always higher education. So, as we think about how we grow our own economic base here, we need to recognize that education is a critical component of that,” he said. “You have Montgomery College there, which is a real leader in this arena. The possibility of bringing a very industry aligned program to Bethesda and Silver Spring, connected with Montgomery College right there, could help jumpstart our own tech sector.”

Riemer said the future presence of the 16-mile light rail Purple Line, which will connect Bethesda and New Carrollton, will be key in connecting the county to other parts of the region, including College Park, the site of the University System’s flagship campus.

A number of real estate developers attended Tuesday’s event, including Brigg Bunker, a managing partner with the Potomac real estate company Foulger-Pratt. Bunker said he spoke with Riemer at the event and suggested the former Discovery Inc. building in Silver Spring an ideal location for the type of innovation center Riemer was suggesting. Children’s National Health System announced in May that it had signed a 15-year lease for four floors of the building.

“It is a great draw given the Purple Line, the Red Line and two entry points off of the Beltway,” he said.

Bunker said he was not advocating that the University System choose the Discovery building for a new campus, but he could see employers wanting to locate in Montgomery County if the university put a satellite tech campus there.

“When you put it into the context of Amazon going to Northern Virginia, I have heard part of the reason they’ve interviewed so intently is to understand the quality of the engineering programs they could draw,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com.

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