Howard County's Chamber of Commerce, saying controversy over growth has hurt the business community's image, is proposing that the chamber and government create a quasi-public agency to run the county's economic development program.
In a six-page report submitted yesterday to Executive-elect Charles I. Ecker's transition team, the chamber also called for the appointment of a committee of business leaders to draft a long-term economic development plan.
Richard H. Pettingill, president of the chamber, said the group believed that the business climate has been soured by controversy over proposals to restrict development, pushed through by the administration of outgoing Executive Elizabeth Bobo.
The report by the chamber, which represents 800 businesses, said there is a serious problem with "the perception, so important in the eyes of the business community, that Howard County is losing its competitive edge to other jurisdictions."
"We know that the county is committed to managed growth, an average 2,500 homes and 2,700 new jobs each year," the report said. "The message, however, has been obscured by the growth controversy, and it must be re-emphasized so the external business community understands we are seeking quality growth on a managed basis in the years ahead."
Creating a quasi-public agency to handle business issues would "depoliticize the Office of Economic Development and make it more responsive to the private sector," the chamber's report said. "This would be a perfect example of the public and private sector working hand-and-glove."
The report complained that the county has shifted the Economic Development Office away from the main government office building, which "sends a signal that economic development is not a high priority of Howard County."
"We want business to have a much higher profile in county government than it has up to now," said Mr. Pettingill, adding that the person who handles economic development should be a Cabinet-level appointee reporting directly to the executive.
Mr. Ecker, a Republican who takes office Monday, agreed that the economic development director should report to him, but he said he would need to study the proposalfor setting up a quasi-public agency.
He said he intended to involve business leaders and other citizens in drafting a long-term economic development plan and recommending who might fill the vacant economic development director's job.
"My mind is open on the proposal for a joint chamber-county agency, but I do need greater details," Mr. Ecker said.
"Business certainly will be one of the major priorities of my administration because we need economic development for the vitality of the county," he added.
The chamber's report also said the county should:
* Place greater emphasis on building infrastructure like water and sewer lines, schools and roads, as well as providing affordable housing and meeting the educational needs of the work force.
* Develop programs designed to retain existing businesses.
* Do more to help small businesses, including minority, women-owned and home-based businesses.
* Create a program to help people start small businesses or cottage industries with seed capital from the county.
* Develop a program to expand the existing high-tech and bio-tech businesses.
* Recruit corporate and regional headquarters to locate in the county.
* Require an economic impact assessment of all major legislative efforts.
* Develop a program to promote Howard County as a place to do business, including one that would capitalize on the county's status as a center for international business in Maryland.