Roughly five years ago, DreamPort, a shared workspace where cybersecurity firms and government partners collaborate, was searching to lease space that could accommodate its expected growth, Director Armando Seay said. The organization quickly focused on Columbia, Maryland.
Transportation hubs like Baltimore Washington International Airport surround Columbia, Seay said, and the area has nearby hotels and other services. Additionally, a community of cybersecurity-focused contractors was forming the nexus of what has been dubbed Cyber Valley.
“You don’t have to go all the way into Baltimore, where the ecosystem is a little bit different,” Seay said.
Baltimore would love to poach an organization like DreamPort, which expanded from leasing 18K SF to taking 73K SF at Columbia Gateway in four years. But cybersecurity players like DreamPort aren’t showing an eagerness to leave the embrace of Howard County for the city’s urban offerings, despite efforts to grow the industry in Baltimore.
The city and state have launched initiatives to spur more cybersecurity growth in Baltimore, such as the formation of workforce training organization Baltimore Cyber Range in 2017. Baltimore universities such as Johns Hopkins have also made investments into growing the cybersecurity talent pipeline, and one of the city’s largest developments — now branded as Baltimore Peninsula — had previously been envisioned as a cybersecurity hub before pivoting away from the industry.
In 2018, then-Mayor Catherine Pugh said Baltimore was becoming the “cybersecurity center of the world,” according to University of Maryland Baltimore News.
Maryland has remained a leading state for cybersecurity, but many firms have chosen to remain in and around Columbia, in large part because of where the industry’s largest federal partners are located. The market sits near the National Security Agency’s headquarters and U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade.
According to Cyberseek, more than 46,000 Maryland residents are working in cybersecurity, and nearly 25,000 jobs are available statewide. By comparison, Pennsylvania, which has about twice Maryland’s population, has roughly 43,000 residents working in cybersecurity and about 24,000 job openings.
About half of those workers and unfilled positions in Maryland are in the Baltimore, Towson and Columbia metropolitan statistical areas.
“I have seen growth, and they’ve been gravitating to the [Interstate] 95 corridor, and that’s because of proximity to Fort Meade and Howard County especially,” Mackenzie Commercial Real Estate Senior Vice President Adam Nachlas said.
Corporate Office Properties Trust has developed a niche in the Columbia office market catering to small and midsized cybersecurity companies. Krysta Herring, vice president of leasing and asset management at COPT, said that is reflected in the growth of cybersecurity tenants at Columbia Gateway. In 2018, cybersecurity firms leased about 45% of the building. Now those firms rent approximately 65% of the space.
“We’re really well positioned to capture the niche we’ve built out,” Herring said.
The cybersecurity industry’s continued concentration around Columbia comes after one of the most high-profile attempts to move the industry’s center up to Baltimore fizzled out.
In 2018, then-Port Covington-developer Weller Development Co. said it intended to turn Baltimore into the national center for the cybersecurity industry by branding the 250-acre mixed-use development as Cyber Town USA.
Cybersecurity startup studio DataTribe, early stage cybersecurity venture capital firm AllegisCyber, and investment banking and corporate advisory firm Evergreen Advisors joined Weller Development Co. to tout plans to create the world’s leading cybersecurity hub at Port Covington.
However, Baltimore’s bid to become the epicenter of the nation’s cybersecurity industry never gained traction. As the developer struggled to sign leases at the project, big talk about Cyber Town U.S.A. fell to a whisper before fading away.
“We’ve evolved past just the Cyber Town USA campaign,” Scooter Monroe, then a vice president at Weller Development, told the Baltimore Business Journal in early 2021.
About a year later, Evergreen Advisors backed out of its commitment to relocate from Columbia to Port Covington and signed a 10-year lease with The Howard Hughes Corp. for nearly 11K SF of office space at 30 Corporate Row in Downtown Columbia.
“We had a lot of different options in where we wanted to go when we were looking to move our headquarters … but you look at the success of the MarTech and the Tenables … it’s got a great ecosystem,” Evergreen CEO Rick Kohr said during a news conference announcing the firm’s new lease.
This spring, Sagamore Ventures and Goldman Sachs replaced Weller Development Co. with MAG Partners and MacFarlane Partners as lead developers. The new developers last month rebranded the project Baltimore Peninsula.
When the new developers announced the first office deal at Baltimore Peninsula, it was 123-year-old interior design business H. Chambers Co. The firm signed a 10-year lease for nearly 8K SF in the Rye Market building, once envisioned as the focal point of Cyber Town USA.
Back in Columbia, DreamPort is thinking about growing again. But Seay said the firm would stay in Columbia and would continue to work with the same landlord, COPT, when it’s time to expand.
“It’s almost like a bit of the solar system where we get to act a little bit like the sun,” he said.
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