- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Just three years ago, Richard Tworek founded a new software company, Qovia Inc., in Frederick, Md., on the northernmost part of the state’s Interstate 270 corridor.

Today, the developer of Internet telephony technology is flourishing, with 60 employees and serving Fortune 1000 clients.

Has it been hard getting skilled technology employees to drive to Frederick five days a week? Hardly.

“It’s a big benefit for us ” the reverse commute,” says Mr. Tworek, the company’s president and CEO. “One of the questions we addressed when we started this was: ‘Will we be in the middle of nowhere?’ But we’ve found that the opposite is now true. This is a bedroom community for Northern Virginia, Rockville and D.C.”

Qovia is definitely not alone along the I-270 corridor, where office parks, jobs and, now, affordable housing are rapidly emerging. A number of factors have contributed to the region’s development.

According to the Maryland Technology Development Corp., a public-private organization based in Columbia, Md., the state is one of the largest recipients of federal research-and-development dollars in the nation.

Companies, universities and federal research labs in the state receive about $10 billion annually in research funding.

Moreover, organizations such as Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland have spawned a large number of start-up companies, which have ventured out on their own. Nationally known technology companies, including MedImmune, Celera and Human Genome Sciences, have offices near or along the I-270 corridor.

According to the Milken Institute’s state technology and science index, Maryland ranked fourth nationally in technology development.

“We’re going to continue to see developments on the I-270 corridor of large office buildings, jobs and homes based on the demand being created by companies in telecom, the life sciences and biological sciences,” says Edward Schiff, a real estate lawyer in the D.C. offices of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton.

“There is a movement among the counties and townships there to embrace residential development,” Mr. Schiff says.

The growth has been persistent for the past three years there, although even 15 years ago, visionaries were predicting a coming boom, said Peg Scherbarth, the D.C.-area director of ZipRealty.

In addition to the creation of jobs in Maryland, other practical factors have influenced the interest of homeowners in the area.

“If you want to buy a home and upgrade, there are limits in D.C. or Northern Virginia or parts of Montgomery County,” Ms. Scherbarth says.

“That’s because this is one of the top areas in the country in terms of the job market and interest rates. That has driven real estate demand through the ceiling,” she says. “So people are going farther and farther away from the hub to find affordable homes.”

For these professionals and executives, the idea of what constitutes a long commute has changed considerably in recent years.

“Whereas a 12- to 14-mile commute was OK before, now you see people heading even greater distances,” Ms. Scherbarth says. “If you go up the I-270 corridor, you see people heading west and north.”

Mr. Schiff says locales such as Frederick are emerging as the bedroom communities for people who commute to Gaithersburg and other towns in Montgomery County.

The very infrastructure of the areas is changing, too, accommodating the demand and the vision of savvy developers.

“The need will continue,” Mr. Schiff says. “You will see that in Darnestown and North Gaithersburg. You will see a lot of old shopping centers being retrofitted. The ‘big box’ developers … are now involved. That’s a sign that the residential communities can support them. There is the density, the critical mass there.”

Mr. Schiff says developers are working with local governments to set aside land for buildings, including new elementary and junior high schools, that will soon be needed to accommodate growth.

“You’re seeing condo developments around the Kentlands,” Mr. Schiff says. “Right across the street, you have Human Genome Sciences. If you are developing there, the government is going to ask you to set aside a portion of the grounds for future school use. That is fine. To have a school nearby is a great selling point ” the developers and the county will work together on that.”

Many prospective homeowners are so anxious to buy homes that they will even pay 25 percent above the list price, Ms. Scherbarth says, so they can be near the I-270 corridor, the access route to where they work, for companies such as Cisco and Nortel.

Frederick is still relatively small, with about 52,000 residents. The average home price is $138,000, with an average household income of $56,000.

About 30 percent of the town’s residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

That’s one thing that also motivated Mr. Tworek years ago to start Qovia ” a small-town atmosphere with an educated populace.

“I am originally from the Frederick area and had been in the technology business for 18 years,” Mr. Tworek says. “This is my third company. One of my dreams was to have a business near my home in Frederick. I guess dreams do come true.”

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