County Looks Into Semiprivate Efforts To Attract Business

December 15, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

If you can forget taxes, regulations and zoning laws for a moment, government may be one of the best friends business has ever had.

Atleast when it comes to economic development.

"Without a sound basis of governmental support, you can burn out the business community very quickly," said David Nikoloff, the executive director of the Economic Development Co. in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

While acknowledging government money in Lancaster County accounts for only about 20 percent of his budget, he said a lack ofgovernmental involvement in developing new business is "like a farmer eating his seed corn."

As Carroll's county commissioners -- as well as county executives in Anne Arundel and Howard counties -- look at the feasibility of getting out of the business development game, they are said to be exploring how semi-private or quasi-public economic development works elsewhere.

For the most part, economic development efforts in Delaware, Pennsylvania and the rest of Maryland rely on government in one form or another. But at the same time, they are relying more and more on money and expertise from the very community they seek to enhance.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, the state's Department of Commerce said it often works with county-level, quasi-public agencies set up to entice business activity.

Called industrial-development corporations, these publicly and privately funded organizations offer one-stop economic assistance.

Nikoloff's organization is one such entity. While it has been around in some form since the 1960s, the company was formally severed from the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry just two years ago.

"All of those groups are the front line in economic development," said Ron Jury, a spokesman for Pennsylvania's commerce department. "We have a great relationship with them, and they have a great relationship with their businesscommunity."

In Delaware, as in Maryland, the state has an active business development office. The office employs 50 people, and has anannual budget of about $6 million. But that office relies on county-funded agencies in the state's three counties in its efforts.

"Oneof the things we try to do is work with the local towns, counties and their organizations," said Donal P. Sullivan, the office's director. "We have good relationships with them as well as with banks, local chambers and utilities."

Carroll's economic development efforts are under study now, as the commissioners look to ways to improve theireffectiveness while cutting costs.

And while in some places -- Baltimore County and York County, Pa., for example -- the government can make a substantial investment in economic development, Carroll faces a limited budget and a skeleton staff.

For example, the Baltimore County Economic Development Commission employs 26 people and has a budget of $1.3 million, five times more money than it had five years ago.

Carroll's four-person staff has a budget of about $250,000, afigure that has decreased slightly in the past two years.

York County's development company, while a private, non-profit firm, is retained by the county and the city of York to act as its

main economic development office.

The commissioners began their look at alternatives for economic development this summer, when the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce began studying the possibility of forming a non-profit foundation to augment the county's economic development office.

The study is stalled until the commissioners decide what direction they want to take economic development.

While their ties to the private sector are strong, economic development efforts in Maryland are mostly publicly funded. Only Allegany, Somerset, Charles, Prince George's and Wicomico counties have economic development operations paid for with both private and public money.

"We're waiting to see what the commissioners want," said Helen Utz, director of the 67-year-old organization for the last 19 years. "They haven't told us how they feel about a private, non-profit group providing them with money."

Carroll's economic development director, however, would be more than happy to take the money. His limited budget doesn't allow him to do much marketing.

In fact, his staff has come up with several advertising campaigns.

So far, those campaigns have circulated no farther than North Center Street.

"We need more money for marketing, and private industry can be very helpful," said James C. Threatte, thecounty's economic development director. "There's a lot more we can be doing."

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