County Executive Charles I. Ecker said Thursday the county needs to do a better public relations job telling residents that business is good for the county.
"We have no-growthers who say more jobs equalsmore traffic," Ecker told an audience of 150 members of the Baltimore-Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce.
"We need to do a better job of communicating the advantages" of business growth here. "Property taxes will go out of sight otherwise."
Ecker was one of four area county executives taking part in a chamber-sponsored symposium at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory on regional economic development.
The others, Parris N. Glendeningof Prince George's, Robert R. Neall of Anne Arundel, and Neal Potterof Montgomery County, said stimulating local economies is their primary concern.
"The engine that drives the well-being of the county is business," Glendening said. "We are pro-growth."
Potter, who isplanning to open a small business development center jointly with Glendening in the next two weeks, agreed.
"The emphasis has to be onmaintaining the prosperity of the businesses we now have," Potter said.
"We need to lay out a strategy on how to diversify our economy," said Neall.
"We may be the Houston of 1990, the hardest hit" ofany region in the current recession, Neall said.
A recurring theme with all four executives was that local government, faced with increased demands and shrinking resources, cannot function as in the past.
"People are worried about what government can realistically provide," Neall said. "People are starting to ask, 'What can we do without? What is the mission of government?' I personally believe that mission is to help people help themselves."
The executives said they are looking to economic development because property taxes, the one revenue source over which they have control, cannot do the job.
"I think 'No new taxes!' really means people are fed up with government, Ecker said. "They're saying, 'We don't like what we get.' I believe people will be willing to pay if they are satisfied with the services they get."
Ecker said that there have been "too many Band-Aid approaches" to solving the county's economic woes. He will be looking to long-term as well as short-term solutions as he attempts to "streamline" county government.
Neall will be asking Michael S. Lofton, hisnew economic development coordinator, to determine which local government services can be privatized. Lofton will be joining Neall after serving more than 20 years in the state's economic and employment development office, the last four as deputy director. Neall said privatization would lead to more jobs and boost the local economy.
To beat the recession -- which Glendening estimated will last at least another 18 months -- the four counties must collaborate more with each other and the state, the executives said.
"We do not want to rob other counties in Maryland," Ecker said. "We will look to other states" to attract new business. "We are determined to spark economic growth"in Howard County by working with existing businesses.
Earlier, Glendening had bragged about getting a business to come to Prince George's in three months while another jurisdiction was still trying to figure out how to issue permits to the company.
Glendening used the story to illustrate what he is doing to help business. He said a strong consensus with the county council, the school board, and government unions has enabled him to extend the time limit on building permitsdelayed because of a lack of finances, streamline the development review process, and postpone the use of impact fees for four years. "I have asked all of my staff to be personally and aggressively involvedwith existing businesses," he said.