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UMD taps Ulman to bring business to College Park

Anna Isaacs//Daily Record Business Reporter//December 22, 2014

UMD taps Ulman to bring business to College Park

By Anna Isaacs

//Daily Record Business Reporter

//December 22, 2014

For his next act, Ken Ulman will take a crack at bringing business to Maryland – this time, through the private sector.

The former Howard County executive said in the aftermath of his failed run for lieutenant governor, he wanted to play “as much of a role as possible” outside of the public sphere.

The answer came in the form of launching his own consulting firm – Margrave Strategies LLC – and partnering with the institution he says he kept coming back to: his alma mater, the University of Maryland at College Park.

“It just seemed like a natural partnership,” Ulman said.

Ulman will take on the University of Maryland College Park Foundation – where private gifts are held and invested — as his first client in a three-year contract that could max out at about a quarter-million dollars for the first year, taking on a task officials have grappled with for years: attracting business investment.

UMCP has had some recent successes in that arena. It will soon open a major hotel and conference center on its main drag, U.S. 1, right near the university’s entrance. Down the street in Riverdale Park, construction of a Whole Foods Market is underway, part of a major mixed-use development with space for offices, apartments and retail.

In September, the university received $31 million – a record sum – from Ulman’s fellow Howard County native Brendan Iribe, founder of virtual reality technology company Oculus VR, to help build a new home for the university’s computer science department. Construction of the building, equipped with “hacker/maker spaces” for student experimenting, is expected to top $150 million.

And just this month, the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland approved a $155 million transformation of Cole Field House – officially, the William P. Cole Student Activities Building – that will eventually house, along with a practice facility for the football team, a new innovation and entrepreneurship program.

But UMCP has also faced its fair share of struggles in attempting to rebrand itself. Plans to create a 38-acre, nearly $1 billion “East Campus,” complete with a music venue, restaurants, shops, a movie theater, grocery store, and student housing sputtered and fell flat during the recession. And its stretch of U.S. 1 has made a name for itself of late not as the heart of a thriving college town but as the site of several pedestrian deaths along a dangerous thoroughfare.

There’s a difference in efforts to revitalize College Park this time around, said Vice President of Community Relations Peter Weiler.

“We’re actually doing things,” he said.

Weiler said the foundation has been “playing a much more active role,” snapping up properties and actively investing. Hiring Ulman was another step.

“Ken is very well-connected to the business community, he completely understands the value of economic development, understands how to do it,” Weiler said.

Ulman envisions both a technology hub and a community with the quality of life to attract entrepreneurial talent, cementing a state, national, even global reputation for the university.

“First off, what we’re going to do is to raise the profile of the university so that folks in our state and around the country and around the globe think of the University of Maryland as a hub for research and investment in the 21st-century economy,” he said.

Great centers of innovation, Ulman said, are intertwined with the universities in those regions. And while UMD “has done a great job with creating and entrepreneurial spirit,” he said, it has a ways to go.

“We need to continue to make progress making it a tremendously livable community where you want to live, work and be part of an educational ecosystem,” he said.

Ulman’s goals for the university are lofty, mirroring those that drove his campaign for lieutenant governor — among them, ensuring the state of Maryland has the most competitive business climate of any state in the nation.

He sees the university as critical to that effort, and his new job as not just driving companies to College Park, but to the wider state. And though he won’t name any specific plans yet, he said onlookers should anticipate a “constant stream of announcements” in the near future.

“This is not just a College Park effort,” he said. “This is a state of Maryland effort.”


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