Firms and profits flourished on Columbia's fertile ground

June 14, 1992|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,Staff Writer

The following is a trick question: Who built Columbia?

Answer: Rouse Co., right?

Wrong. Although Rouse Co. and partner Connecticut General Life Insurance bought the land, much of the building of Columbia was done by other firms. Many of those firms have prospered as the result of the original Rouse vision.

Perhaps none gained more than the Ryland Group, a company closely tied to Columbia since the city's inception.

In 1966, James T. Ryan, of the Ryan family of homebuilders, was looking for a place to start a new company. He was lured to Columbia by James Rouse.

The following year, the Ryland Group (the name is a combination of Ryan and Maryland) built approximately 100 homes in fledgling Wilde Lake Village. Twenty-five years later, Ryland is one of the largest homebuilders in the nation.

In 1991, Ryland settled on more than 6,600 properties in 15 states, and the company's revenue topped $1.2 billion. Its new headquarters tower over what will soon be the gateway to Columbia at Little Patuxent Parkway. Next year, the company plans to start building homes in the former Soviet Union.

Ryland officials are grateful to the company that started it all.

"The Rouse Co. certainly was a leader," said Nancy Smith, a Ryland vice president. "But one of the things they did was bring others in and make them partners."

Other major corporations that have located in Columbia are Westinghouse, Bendix and Paine Webber. The list of homebuilders includes Columbia Builders, Mark Homes, Goodier, NU Homes, McDonough and others. And Rouse is by no means the only developer: Manekin Corp. and Trammell Crow Co. own large portions of the city's industrial land.

Columbia was also fertile ground for Fred Hittman.

When Hittman took a gamble and moved Hittman Associates to Columbia in 1967, most of the roads were dirt and getting to the Red Branch Road office meant driving over a one-lane bridge along Route 108.

One thing that attracted him to Columbia, Hittman said, was the favorable lease rate he was able to get from Rouse. But the main reason was the lifestyle Columbia promised.

"It was more of a dream at that time," Hittman said. "But the promise for me was that this was a place that would attract and hold scientists and engineers."

The dream came true. The company went public in 1969, and by 1982, it had 500 employees.

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