How Entrepreneurship Can Help Rethink College Park

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Instead of the sharp boundaries that exist today, there should be a symbiotic relationship between the University of Maryland and College Park, with each providing resources and vision for shared projects that can improve both the University and the city.

The University wants to attract top-tier students and faculty. The city of College Park wants to provide a safe, enriching environment for citizens to live and grow. A culture of entrepreneurship can help realize both of these goals. Start-up companies will pay taxes to power the College Park economy, and help attract top academic talent to the University of Maryland.

So why has this not already happened?

With the variety of resources available in College Park, why are small companies not flocking to College Park? The area does not suffer from a lack of talent. The University of Maryland consistently ranks among the top research universities in the world. The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, and a host of other organizations provide everything prospective business owners need to begin, or grow, their businesses.

One reason is clear: companies can move to better, more desirable cities, while still maintaining access to resources at the University of Maryland. Evidence shows that although many companies are started from the University of Maryland, many leave College Park as they become larger and more successful. As companies grow, they leave College Park for cities that are better able to support their company and provide more desirable benefits, such as safe housing and community centers. To compete with these other cities, College Park must provide suitable amenities for start-up companies.

The engine of entrepreneurial activity would also involve one of the largest, yet least invested groups in College Park: students of the University of Maryland. One reason students do not become involved is because many plan on leaving within four years. Four years is not enough time to warrant making a significant investment in the community of College Park. The existence of a thriving business community in College Park will provide an incentive for students to stay in the city after graduation.

I am not a city planner or psychologist. But it seems that a reasonable focus for our reimagining of College Park should begin with crime. As long as the specter of violence hangs over College Park, investment of time and resources will flow away from College Park to more developed, stable areas. By making the city more attractive to start-up companies, College Park and the University of Maryland will be able to reap the benefits of entrepreneurship.

4 thoughts on “How Entrepreneurship Can Help Rethink College Park”

  1. Please explain why companies do not mind the specter of violence when they are small, but become concerned about it when they grow larger.

    Please also share what you would do to reduce crime.

  2. I personally do not feel that a specter of violence hangs over College Park. I think a larger obstacle would be a lack of affordable office space.

  3. It’s not so much that small companies don’t mind violence – sometimes they just have to deal with these circumstances because they cannot afford to move to a nicer area until they have established revenues. In other cases, the company may exist solely on the (safer) College Park campus without having to venture into College Park. However, as the companies grow and look to find a larger offices, which they may build or move into, they will not remain in College Park. The startup companies, and the capital investments they make will not be in College Park because of the threat (be it real or perceived) that investment in College Park is riskier due to the high crime rate.

    Perhaps “specter of violence” is too strong a term – although I believe there is a common perception that College Park is a dangerous town. Check the front page of the Diamondback – an alumnus was robbed last Saterday at knifepoint. From the Prince George’s County crime logs, you can see that there are a smattering of muggings, robberies, and break-ins along the Route 1 corridor and along the perimeter of the UMD campus.

    Clay, it is good to see that you do not feel that College Park is overly threatened by violence. I myself have never felt threatened on the UMD campus or in College Park. Even though the risk of actually being a victim in such a crime is low, the perception of a city as “dangerous” can still be enough to deter capital investment in office space and retail. From a Police Foundation research brief:

    “While crime is a major problem in many cities, citizen fear of crime often exceeds the actual risk of being victimized. This fear produces a fortress mentality among residents. It makes citizens suspicious of one another and erodes the sense of community upon which neighborhood life depends. Ultimately, it can result in urban decay and flight from our cities.”

    By reducing crime, the City can encourage growth because developers will be more inclined to build office space on College Park. The increase in supply of office space supply would decrease costs, making offices more affordable for University startups. It is a chicken and egg problem with three variables – crime rate, businesses growth, and development rate, which perhaps explains why the pieces have not come together yet.

    I am totally unqualified to talk about crime-reduction strategies. From what I have read, increasing police/citizen interaction, as well as increasing the visibility of the police force can decrease crime rates and increase citizen confidence. That seems fairly straightforward. Of course, if it were that simple, no city would have to worry about crime. I doubt that a solution to the problem of crime can be reduced to a blog post. Crimes occur for a variety of reasons, are perpetrated by a variety of offenders, and have different victims. Perhaps we need someone like Shadow Hare (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Da1ADqPplQ4).

    Here are some recent reports on UMD and business creation:

    http://www.newsdesk.umd.edu/uniini/release.cfm?ArticleID=1911

    http://www.newsdesk.umd.edu/uniini/release.cfm?ArticleID=1913

  4. What is all this talk about crime? Is it that bad in College Park? I never knew. Do we have practical expectations of the amount of crime an urban suburb of a major city? There is crime in and around all densely populated urban areas. Look at NYC, L.A., Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Miami. I think a company would be foolish to only locate itself where the crime rate was sufficiently low (rural areas). Who’s going to commute to those far away places? It doesn’t work. If that was the norm, there would be no city center. Just sprawled out office parks wasting land. I think Clay is right. The cost to run the business is more important than the cost to protect employees from violent crimes. Furthermore, the presence of businesses deter crime as there are more people around and more security measures to make their employees safe. As in cameras on the street and in parking areas, lighting, etc.

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