Potter's Folly

June 27, 1991

Montgomery County Executive Neal Potter really goofed this time. He told General Dynamics Corp. there would be no welcome mat extended if the giant military contractor wants to locate its headquarters in his affluent county. How's that for putting a new twist on economic development?

Mr. Potter was elected last year, in a shocking upset, with a pledge to rein in rampant growth in his wealthy but increasingly congested county. Yet voters didn't think that would mean shutting the door to a $10 billion-a-year company that simply wants to put its top executives in posh headquarters near the nation's capital.

An extra 200 high-paid executives working in Montgomery wouldn't exactly clog the roads and spur a new wave of residential growth. It would, though, boost tax revenues and the county's prestige. And with a whopping 19 percent office vacancy rate, Montgomery hardly can afford to turn away potential tenants. But that was apparently Mr. Potter's intention.

After his comments ignited a furor within the county and state economic development communities, Mr. Potter softened his stand. But he did so in such a way as to deliver a new slap at General Dynamics. "It's a free country," he said, "and they can come here if they want to." Hardly a "howdy, neighbor!" greeting.

Given this lukewarm response, General Dynamics officials would be foolish to rush into Montgomery. We urge them, instead, to concentrate on other convenient Maryland counties, such as Howard, Anne Arundel and Prince George's. Baltimore City would prove an especially enticing locale, with rapid commutes to Capitol Hill far easier than battling gridlock on the Rockville Pike. The company would receive an exuberant, Maryland-style reception in these subdivisions.

If Montgomery's voters and elected leaders truly want to close down the county's economic development office, they will regret it later. We doubt such an attitude exists outside the county executive's office. For such insularity will only help other subdivisions -- preferably counties in the Baltimore-Washington corridor -- to lure those same high-caliber corporations to their jurisdictions. Mr. Potter's constituents cannot afford to let him pull up Montgomery's drawbridge.

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