Coca-Cola Comeback in Howard?

July 27, 1992

Howard County officials will have plenty to crow about if reports are true that Coca-Cola has signed a letter of intent to buy 120 acres and build a regional headquarters and bottling plant in the county. Such an occurence would bring millions in needed tax revenues and create hundreds of jobs.

Of no less importance, Coca-Cola's presence would raise the county's stature for major corporations looking to establish themselves strategically in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

But don't pop any corks yet -- or flip the tops on soda cans. A letter of intent is just as tenuous as it sounds. Any firm commitment may be months away. In addition, Coca-Cola has yet to tell county officials that it has settled on a parcel.

There is probably good reason for that. When Coca-Cola had its eyes set on the former Freestate Raceway property on U.S. 1 not long ago, Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass got wind of it and helped lead neighboring residents who opposed the plan.

The result? Coca-Cola picked up its bottles and went home. Now a well-placed source has stepped forward to say Coca-Cola has signed a tentative agreement on another U.S. 1 parcel, but this one is far from residential development.

State and local officials worked in tandem to try to keep the Coca-Cola project alive. "I hate to use this euphemism," one official said, "but we basically held their hands and reassured them that everything would work out."

Special credit should go to Howard County's economic development office and Dyan Brasington, its director. Ms. Brasington, who unfortunately is leaving her post later this year for personal reasons, took an organization that was barely up to the task and has enlivened it with competence and purpose. Accolades have come from many quarters.

When officials in Cecil County, for example, were preparing to update their development plan, they looked to other county plans for possible models. They chose Howard's as the best, edging out no less a powerhouse than Montgomery County.

What Howard's plan had was a clear set of goals and a guide for getting there. If Coca-Cola indeed decides that Howard County is the real thing, one of those goals has been met in spades.

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