Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker see more than new jobs when they look at the Ford Motor Credit Co.'s plans to build an operations center in Columbia.
"It's prestige," Schaefer said yesterday at a news conference in Ellicott City. "First of all, you've got a Fortune 500 company coming in, and they don't just go anywhere. They go where there's a good work force, where state government is cooperative, where local government is cooperative."
Ecker said the company's decision would give a major boost to the county's economic-development efforts.
"I think it shows other companies that if this Fortune 500 company came here, that they ought to consider Howard County," he said. "I think the spinoff from this is going to be tremendous."
Ford Credit, of Dearborn, Mich., will join the approximately 100 other Fortune 500 companies with a Maryland location in mid 1992 when it leases 50,000 square feet of office space owned by South Charles Realty Co. at Columbia Gateway's Three Ponds Business Park.
The center is expected to have 250 customer-service workers by the end of 1992 and eventually may employ 900 people, company officials said.
Ford Credit will transfer some of its employees from its two operations centers in Baltimore and from centers in Rockville and Falls Church, Va., said Jerry L. Heimlicher, the company's manager of organization planning. Those centers will remain in operation with fewer employees, he said.
"We were looking to find a place that would have as less a commute as possible for all our employees," said Heimlicher, who said the Columbia location is central to all those sites.
He said the Columbia operations center is a pilot program that will bring each office more specific tasks. The four Baltimore-Washington area centers now serve both credit customers and dealers, but under the new structure those offices will work exclusively with dealers, and the Columbia office will concentrate on improved customer service, he said.
Ford Credit provides vehicle financing for about 4.5 million customers and serves about 8,500 dealers. Company officials said it had considered other sites in Maryland and Northern Virginia before choosing Columbia.
Mark Wasserman, secretary of Maryland's Department of Economic and Employment Development, said the state did not give the company any tax incentives to persuade it to locate here, but said it would provide $150,000 in training assistance for employees at Howard Community College.
"More often than ever now, it's the training assistance that can make a difference in a locating decision," Wasserman said, adding that the county's environment, business climate and location also helped. "The magic of Howard County is that it's perfectly situated."
Dyan Lingle Brasington, the county's economic-development administrator, said state and county officials have worked for months to lure the company to Howard and that local businesses helped by telling the firm about the county's attributes. She said the company told officials of its decision on Tuesday.
Brasington said the county now will have to work on providing more transportation to Columbia Gateway, a massive commercial and light-industry park on Md. 175 near Interstate 95.