HOLLYWOOD, Md. (January 23, 2018)—Gov. Larry Hogan's fiscal 2019 budget includes $28.4 million to begin construction on the highly anticipated third building at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center (SMHEC).
This third building will be the hub of unmanned and autonomous systems research and development led by the University System of Maryland, raising hopes that the county and the region at large can develop high technology for civilian commercial use and diversify the local economy away from the military.
County Commissioner Todd Morgan, long a supporter of the project, was ecstatic upon learning of the funding in the governor's proposed budget.
"We've been battling for this down here for a long time," Morgan told The County Times, noting the progress already being made at the University System of Maryland's UAS Test Site nearby the higher education center on Airport Drive in California and the expansion of the St. Mary's County Regional Airport.
"What a great place to get it," he said of the site for the third building. "We've been making base hits but were scoring runs now."
Several years ago when the struggle to get funding for the new building began, the commissioners voted to set aside $1million of county tax payers' funding for the project.
Morgan said that investment was paying dividends now.
"We put our money where our mouth is and the governor is following through," Morgan said.
The $28.4 million in the state budget will allow for ground breaking of the new facility but the overall cost of the project is $80 million.
Mel Powell, executive director of SMHEC, also confirmed that the state university system would be taking over the entire operation at the facility this year as part of an agreement with the board of governors.
"The chancellor's office [of the university system] will be taking over the entire operation as of July 1," Powell told The County Times Wednesday. "That's the plan, it's all a matter of working out a memorandum of understanding (MOU).
Apart from the MOU, legislation would be required to set up a funding process for the takeover, Powell said.
The current board of governors would become an advisory board and lose its ability to make policy, Powell said, adding that "the board is in agreement with this process."
The funding for the third building should be available to begin construction this summer.
The county commissioners, along with the governor and U.S. Rep Steny Hoyer, recently dedicated a new business incubator that will help start up companies with bringing their products to civilian markets.
The incubator is tied to the University System of Maryland's UAS test site located at the St. Mary's County Airport.
The airport has also seen major expansions in the past year with contractors bringing in aircraft maintenance business from foreign countries.
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