County Executive Charles I. Ecker said Monday he has dropped for now his plans to make the county's economic development office a separate department.
Although the move would not cost the county more money, Ecker said, it might have created the perception that he was expanding government. During the campaign, Ecker had chastised the previous administration for excessively enlarging the government bureaucracy.
Ecker said his reasons initially for seeking the change from office to department level were to give the development office "a little more status" and to have the director to report directly to him. Now, the director reports to the county administrator.
Ecker wants the director to report to him directly anyway, and said he has asked the county's chief legal officer to see if that is possible. Any such move would have to be approved by the County Council.
Meanwhile, Ecker is going ahead with his plans to hire an economic development coordinator by mid-February. The county has had an acting director, Kirk Fancher, in the position since last March, when director Barry Bogage resigned. Fancher said he is not applying to become permanent director.
But more than 100 other people have applied, two as recently as Monday, Ecker said. He said his staff will begin interviewing people next week. The job will pay from $49,949 to $69,436 a year.
Despite his desire to give the office more status, "the importance of a position does not depend on titles, but results," Ecker said. "The office is going to be a top priority (regardless). I'm not sure if it's going to be (number) one, two, three or four -- but it will be a top priority.
Ecker said he is looking for someone to head the office who "ideally would have been a business person who understands the needs and concerns of business." The successful applicant would have to be "service-oriented" with the ability to "write and talk sensitively with people," Ecker said.
Once a new director is hired, the development office should concentrate on businesses already in the county before attempting to attract new ones, Ecker said.
Ecker said he was told during the campaign that it takes "two to six months just to get permits to move partitions within an office even when there was no change in the business or the business function."
Those stories may have been exaggerated, Ecker said, but he nonetheless wants the development office to work with the county planning and public works offices to "work through the difficulties."
"There's no need to bend the rules," but there is a need to see if the bureaucracy can't move a little more quickly, Ecker said.
If the county treats existing businesses well, those businesses will become "ambassadors" to help recruit other firms, Ecker said. He is especially interested in "utilizing" local chief executive officers to "identify and attract" other companies that might consider making Howard County their corporate headquarters. Ecker also said he thinks research and technology companies would "flourish" here.