Tech, Data, Research, Financial Companies Flock to Columbia Business Centers

By Pamela Coyle on June 10, 2011 at 1:58 pm EST


Sure, Columbia is a commuter haven between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., but residents have formidable and fast-growing options close to home.

Creating a thriving local economy was part of the vision for Columbia, where more than 5,000 companies now have operations of all sizes. The city is home to more than a dozen business and industrial parks, ranging from 24 to 600 acres.

Access to the country’s eastern corridor and its major transportation arteries is a big draw. So are the demographics of Howard County itself, with Maryland’s lowest unemployment rate plus one of the nation's most educated workforces. More than 50 percent of adults over 25 have bachelor’s degrees; the ratio of residents with advanced degrees is nearly 30 percent.

Columbia Gateway, the largest concentration of businesses, is right off Interstate 95. With more than 4 million square feet, it employs more than 17,000 people – and it still has room to grow.

Merkle, a big and growing database-marketing agency, moved to a new corporate headquarters in Gateway. That’s 550 new jobs. Another 90 new jobs come courtesy of Osiris Pharmaceuticals, a maker of stem cell products.

They join firms such as Motorola, Magellan Health Services, Honeywell, Sun MicroSystems, Maxim Healthcare, Northrup Grumman Mission Systems and dozens of other major companies with regional or company headquarters at Gateway.

The big sectors are financial services, health care support, development, publishing and technology of all kinds. “Informatics,” or data gathering, manipulating, interpreting and storing, is huge.

Three companies in Howard County landed on Deloitte’s Fast 500 list. All three – Sourcefire Inc., Paradigm Infotech and Martek Biosciences Corp. – call Columbia home. Together, they employ about 1,500 people.

Two new international technology companies set up shop in 2008 in the same Columbia building: Intercontinental Export Import Inc., an environmental company, and Prism Microsystems, an IT infrastructure security monitor and manager.

Howard County recently sent a delegation to Bangalore, India; a trade committee will promote cross-investment.

And major development firms are putting up speculative buildings to attract still more takers.

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