In Doug Duncan’s quest to reclaim the reins of Montgomery County political power, he has attacked Isiah Leggett’s decision to relocate some biotech businesses out of a Gaithersburg incubator. The move is to make room for the county’s effort to become a cybersecurity center for Maryland.
On this, Duncan is wrong and Leggett is right.
Duncan, who will face Leggett in the Democratic primary in June, believes the county should find a way to keep the biotech companies in place and find somewhere else for the cybersecurity businesses.
Some might agree with Duncan’s logic that the move is a poor way for the county to show how important the biotechnology industry is to the county’s economy. Except Duncan seems to be ignoring the costs of what he’s suggesting and the realities of the commercial real estate market.
A new location to house cybersecurity start-ups would cost $3 million, the county says. The cost inside the William Hanna Center for Innovation: $750,000. Where would Duncan find the difference? He doesn’t say.
Finding new spaces for tenants in the William Hanna Center for Innovation might not be easy, but it will be less challenging than when Duncan opened the center himself, as county executive. Then, landlords could turn their back on start-up companies that needed only small spaces. Those landlords could favor bigger companies that leased large areas.
With changes in the market, more commercial real estate companies are realizing they need the small start-ups, too, said Steven A. Silverman, the county’s director of economic development. He’s confident that all of the affected tenants will have new spaces. Plus, the county already does a lot for biotechs, with tax credits and the economic development fund.
We appreciate Duncan’s desire to assist growing biotechs. Voters will remember all he did to turn the Interstate 270 corridor into a major hub for life sciences, as well as his quixotic effort to fight slot machines — he argued instead for government investments in high technology to grow the state’s economy. However, his recent actions cast him as a politician who has forgotten the financial difficulties of the last six years. Adding millions to the county’s bottom line looks like a 20th-century thing to do.