Construction on the 1,000-acre Baltimore Crossroads@95 development in White Marsh is more than a year away, but efforts to lure big tenants to the property are at a fever pitch.
Economic development officials from both Baltimore County and Maryland are in the middle of a multi-pronged marketing campaign directed at high-revenue tenants that would anchor the new project, which was born out of the $65 million, 3.8-mile extension of Maryland Route 43 in White Marsh.
"We're chasing down prospects all the time," said David Iannucci, director of the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development. "We know from how hard we've worked that people are well aware of the Route 43 assets."
The county and the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, a public/private partnership that promotes the region, said at least 12 companies have expressed interest in the Crossroads site, including six firms the alliance met with on a two-day trip to New York City last month.
Neither the county nor the alliance would identify the companies, citing confidentiality agreements, but the New York firms are in the financial services and defense sectors, an alliance official said.
State officials said they have responded to several official requests for proposals from companies looking for large swaths of office or industrial space that could be accommodated at the Crossroads site.
Construction of the development is expected to begin next fall, around the time when northern parts of the Route 43 extension are completed. Plans call for 2.5 million square feet of office space, along with 2.5 million square feet of manufacturing, warehouse and research buildings. Officials predict at least 10,000 new jobs will be housed at the site, the bulk of which will be high-paying.
The county and state agreed to foot most of the bill for the Route 43 extension, after realizing it would open nearly 700 acres of land for development between White Marsh and the county waterfront. They've touted the development's location near Interstate 95, Interstate 695, Martin State Airport and the Port of Baltimore as a potential main draw for companies.
But officials and members of the development team acknowledged that the site will not sell itself, and have been aggressive in contacting any companies that might be looking to relocate.
"This is not like selling an automobile by taking out an ad in the newspaper," said Neil Greenberg, chief operating officer of Bethesda- based Somerset Construction Corp., the project's master developer. "We're way in front of that."
Officials from First Industrial Realty Trust, a Chicago firm charged with building most of the industrial space on the site, said they have received calls from pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms around the country, thanks to industry contacts in 25 of the largest metropolitan areas. The company is close to signing a deal with a large pharmaceutical company looking to move its offices from Charlotte, N.C., according to Mark McConnell, head of First Industrial's Baltimore/Washington division.
Developers and county officials said the location of the Crossroads site has been one of the key selling points in negotiations with companies. But they said the cost of doing business in Baltimore County has raised the most eyebrows in company boardrooms. Overall, businesses can save up to 20 percent by operating in Baltimore County over a market like New York or Boston, officials said.
"Baltimore County is one of the best bargains in the nation from the standpoint of cost to run a business," said Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith. "We aren't being discounted. The cost factor is huge and the amenities are huge."
Officials said they have also grabbed the attention of some companies by boasting of the county's education level. About 31 percent of adults in Baltimore County have bachelor's degrees or more, outpacing the national average of about 24.4 percent.
But county officials and developers appear to be banking on many workers migrating from northern and western parts of the county to work at the Route 43 site.
Fewer than 18 percent of residents over 25 in the eastern part of the county hold college degrees, and in some sections 30 percent of adults have not finished high school. Northern and western sections of Baltimore County, however, boast college graduation rates of more than 50 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"That's not going to pose an issue," said Christian Johannson, chief executive officer of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore. "All of these areas are closely connected. We're very blessed with a locality that allowed transportations to and from most of these areas. [Companies] don't think of county divisions and sections. They think of it as a region. We have a united approach to pursuing this."