Doctors, lawyers, dentists and other service-related businesses fueled a slight increase last year in industrial and office construction in the county, even as housing construction slumped.
County planning and zoning records show the number of construction permits issued for office, retail and industrial buildings rose to 113 in 1991, from109 in 1990.
Three of the permits issued in 1991 were for shopping centers.
At the same time, the number of housing permits issued dropped 18 1/2 percent, to 2,232 in 1991 from 2,740 in 1990.
"The housing market picked up in 1985 and 1986, and it's typical to have a surge of retail and office uses follow that," said William G. Carroll, director of planning and zoning.
"A doctor wants to wait until he knows he has patients and clients."
Developer Bob Ward, of Bob Ward Inc. in Abingdon, built a $1 million two-story office building at Emmorton Road and Bright Oaks Drive in Abingdon last year. Now he is consideringbuilding a second office.
"In the Route 24 corridor, there's a real need for medical services, and that's where we're getting most of our interest," Ward said.
"By building when the market was depressed, we found ourselves in a position as one of only three or four locations in the Bel Air area that had large suites available right away."
Ward, former president of the Harford County Home Builders Association, said the average lease price for office space in the
Bel Air area is $12 to $14 a square foot.
"We're 70 percent leased after 14 months -- in this market, I think that's terrific. My lender isvery pleased," said Ward.
Bill Maloney, president of the Harford County Home Builders Association, said the trend in office construction "is a good argument for not slowing growth."
"We need to continue the steady growth pattern in the county to have both healthy residential and commercial construction industries," said Maloney, owner of W.P. Maloney Inc.
He said the market for new houses has dropped off because the recession has made people uncomfortable about borrowing.
"Until people are very secure in the knowledge that jobs are going to be there for the next year, they're going to be hesitant to make big financial commitments," Maloney said.
He predicted the housing market would recover soon, however.
"An 8 percent drop is notthat dramatic in recessionary times, but I've seen a real turnaroundin the past two weeks," Maloney said, noting that with low interest rates and steady prices, it's an ideal time for people to buy new homes.
Maloney credited county government efforts to attract businessto Harford.
"They've been working hard bringing industry to this county, and I welcome it because it's bringing the construction industry jobs," he said.
Within the past five years, major corporationsincluding Merry-Go-Round Inc., The Gap, Frito-Lay Inc. and Clorox have relocated to Harford County.