By Mark Wineka
Dr. Ed Otto worked 15 years ó much of his adult life ó in Washington, D.C.’s Tech 270 Corridor that stretches toward Rockville, Md.
Otto describes it as “a very nice area to live.”
He loved the public transportation that was available, the considerable areas devoted to parks and green space, the cultural and entertainment offerings connected with a metropolitan area and the “extremely diverse” people who lived and worked there.
“You see people and have restaurants from all countries, and that is a real pleasure to be part of that diversity,” says Otto, recently named director of biotechnology for Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
Otto remembers attending a company luncheon once in this center for biotechnology. The 150 employees at the lunch represented 20 to 25 different countries, he said.
He also recalls an urban and sprawling region with high housing costs, good public schools and a strong government presence.
Otto’s recollections support many of the findings from the recent SWOT Analysis done by Atlanta-based Market Street Services for the city of Kannapolis.
The SWOT Analysis ó standing for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats ó tried to show Kannapolis’ economic and competitive position in comparison to three other communities that already have a strong presence in biotechnology, technology and medicine.
One of those comparison communities was Rockville, which the SWOT study says is located along the I-270 Technology Corridor “also known as DNA Alley.”
Other comparison communities chosen included Cary and Rochester, Minn.
But Rockville may be the closest community to what Kannapolis could become if David Murdock’s dreams for the development of the North Carolina Research Campus materialize.
Otto stopped short of making comparisons to working in the Kannapolis area and working around Rockville. It would unfairly compare a beginning point (Kannapolis) to an end point (Rockville), he said.
But Otto added that the SWOT analysis was a good idea and forward looking ó something that will help guide Kannapolis and Cabarrus County officials in the future.
In its executive summary, the SWOT Analysis said as much.
“These comparison areas have worked hard at becoming places where people want to live and businesses want to be,” it says.
“The current assets of these communities represent decades of private and public sector engagement. The purpose of the comparison communities is to provide examples for Kannapolis to learn from, in terms of how these other communities have excelled or lagged behind.”
A growing Rockville
Rockville had a population of 57,100 in 2004 and is part of a much larger Washington metropolitan area of more than 5.1 million people. The city of Rockville grew 108 percent between 1990 and 2000. That growth continued at a 19.4 percent rate between 2000 and 2004.
Rockville is part of Montgomery County, which had 14,690 biotech jobs in 2004, not including health care.
Kannapolis had 38,547 residents in 2004 and had grown by 24 percent between 1990 and 2000.
An economic impact analysis of the Kannapolis research campus ó also done by Market Street Services ó estimates that 5,535 research and other jobs at the campus early on have the potential to attract an additional 9,291 biotechnology jobs to Rowan and Cabarrus counties by 2032.
Biotech-related jobs are expected to draw an additional 6,800 residents to Cabarrus County and 1,800 people to Rowan County by 2012.
By 2032, Cabarrus County could grow by 26,300 residents and Rowan by 14,100 people in connection to the campus, according to projections.
The SWOT report describes Rockville as a fast growing suburb “with a very strong service/technology based economy and major government presence.”
Sixty percent of Maryland’s 365 bioscience companies are located in the Montgomery County area, and the SWOT Analysis says “top-tier research universities and institutions” support the biotechnology base.
They include Johns Hopkins’ Montgomery County Center campus, the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins’ main campus.
The Shady Grove Life Sciences Center is the local research park in Rockville.
The North Carolina Research Campus will be the biotech engine driving Kannapolis’ future development.
The top-tier research universities that will have facilities at the North Carolina Research Campus include Duke, N.C. State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Thirty-six percent of the households in Rockville are non-English, and 37 percent of the population speaks other languages.
The percentages speak to diversity and the fact that communities with strong research and technology activity typically have large concentrations of minorities and foreign-born residents.
The American Electronics Association recently reported that one in every four scientists and engineers in the United States is foreign-born.
As the biotech center in Kannapolis grows, the face of the city could change with it. As of 2000, Kannapolis had only a 7 percent foreign population, and only 9 percent spoke foreign languages.
“There is no question that an influx of researchers and scientists to NCRC will make Kannapolis more diverse,” the SWOT report says. “It is critical for Kannapolis to create an atmosphere that is open and welcoming to people with different backgrounds and lifestyles.”
Rockville’s emphasis on recreation is out of the ordinary. Of the city of Rockville’s general fund budget, 28 percent goes toward recreation, or an expenditure of $247 per person.
Rockville has 58 public parks, a climbing gym, swim center, nature center, golf course, senior center, skate park and nine recreation centers.
Since it completed a 1998 Bike Master Plan, Rockville added 20 miles of bike/pedestrian trails. It also has the 6,300-acre Seneca State Park just northeast of the city.
Kannapolis today spends 6 percent of its budget on recreation, or $34 a year per person ó one eighth of what Rockville allocates.
The NCRC-related plans calls for 6 miles of greenways, 13 miles of new sidewalk, 8 to 10 miles of new bike lanes, more than 2,000 new trees and 26 acres of new parks and open spaces.
A good portion of what Kannapolis wants to spend in infrastructure improvements from self-financing bonds will go toward recreational improvements.
Recreational opportunities were part of the SWOT report’s look at quality of life.
“Kannapolis and Cabarrus County must make significant investments to catch up to the recreational amenities of the comparison communities,” the SWOT Analysis said.
As for cultural and entertainment amenities, Rockville’s downtown square area is under redevelopment.
The city has the Rockville Civic Center’s F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, a 500-seat facility for the performing arts.
The Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington also offers programs and events.
In Montgomery County, the recreation department has a “Summer Sounds in the Parks” series that includes 15 concerts at three parks. The parks department also has “Shakespeare Under the Stars” and summer twilight concerts.
The city and county also have numerous performing and visual arts venues. The Maryland Soccer Complex and Discovery Sports Center has 19 soccer fields, a 3,200-seat championship field and 60,000-square-foot multi-sport facility.
The National Institute of Health in nearby Bethesda offers tours of parts of its center.
Otto says the quality of life in the Rockville area helps the city in attracting workers to their biotech companies.
Kannapolis has a few entertainment options, including a minor league baseball team. In the area, Lowe’s Motor Speedway and Concord Mills are large tourist draws.
Montgomery County, Md., and the Washington metro area in general, has a lot of networking opportunities for young professionals. The larger area understandably has more physicians, other health care professionals and medical facilities.
There’s also a strong emphasis on recycling and alternative transportation.
Otto said commuting is a challenge everywhere in the Washington area but described the Rockville area as having good connections to the Washington Metro, with a Metro stop in the downtown and several along the Rockville Pike.
As one might expect, the cost of living, especially in housing, is much less expensive in Kannapolis than Rockville. Otto said it seems to him that housing costs are twice to three times higher in the Washington metro area.
The median value of a home in Kannapolis is $81,400, compared to $192,800 in Rockville, according to the SWOT report.
“The relatively low cost of living in the Kannapolis-Cabarrus County area is a positive aspect of the area that should be marketed,” the SWOT report says. “However, cost of living is just one consideration in looking at the overall quality of life of an area.”
Otto grew up in Charlotte. He holds a doctorate in molecular biology from Duke University and an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He moved to the Rockville area from California in 1991.
He has been director of the Office of Cellular, Tissue and Gene Therapies at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologic Evaluation and Research, director of Gene Therapy Inc. in the Washington area, and manager of the N.C. Biowork Pharmaceutical Center in Winston-Salem, where for now he is still living.
“I feel like I’m home, which is very nice,” Otto said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or email@example.com.
By Mark Wineka