Former banker to direct economic development William H. Howard says he knows business people

November 29, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer Howard County's new economic development director sees his position as a natural progression from his 18 years' experience in private sector banking and real estate jobs.

"I always felt I was performing economic development functions as a banker," says William H. Howard Jr., 42, who replaced Dyan Brasington earlier this month.

"It's a logical transfer of skills into the public sector."

As an example, Mr. Howard describes his role as a First National Bank of Maryland vice president in helping to woo a Canadian auto parts manufacturer to Maryland to do business with General Motors. The company was considering locating in the South near other auto manufacturing plants, Mr. Howard says.

Mr. Howard helped sell the Canadian company on the benefits of locating in Maryland and the bank's ability to lend money below the prime rate and offer breaks on mortgage loans to employees who were relocating.

The company, whose United States operation is called Marada Industries Inc., settled in Carroll County.

"That to me is economic development," said Mr. Howard.

James D. Lucas, a former senior vice president at First National, says Mr. Howard has an ability to identify likely business "targets" at an early stage in their decision-making process and work with them as both a consultant and a salesman.

"That will serve him well," says Mr. Lucas, who headed First National's economic development division and now is president

of Patapsco Federal Savings and Loan in Dundalk.

"One of the tricks of the business is to be johnny-on-the-spot. When someone has a challenge to overcome when they're expanding or relocating, you have to be there early."

Since 1974, Mr. Howard has worked in management jobs for six banks in the Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia areas and for a Washington real estate company. He has lived in Ellicott City for 10 years and was working as an independent business consultant when the county hired him.

Ms. Brasington accepted a job as economic development director for the state of West Virginia.

Through banking, Mr. Howard says he developed a knowledge of financial markets and an understanding of "how businessmen think, what many regard as important."

Mr. Howard says his job is to follow the philosophy that guides the county's Economic Development Plan, a strategy for growth over the next 20 years. That philosophy emphasizes that economic development and quality-of-life issues are tied to one another.

"The essence of my job is making sure we stimulate business in a balanced fashion," he says.

For example, the office will seek to attract industries like Marada, which invests in technology and robotics, rather than traditional, smoke- stack industries, he says.

He says he knows that many county residents are wary of attracting more industry and designating more land for commercial growth, fearing increases in traffic and population.

He stresses the positive role businesses play in supporting the county's highly regarded educational system and its abundant recreational and cultural opportunities.

The importance of establishing and expanding a strong business base has been illuminated by recent state and county budget problems, which have placed more burden on residents to pay for services, Mr. Howard says.

"I think generally people set very high expectations," he says.

"With increased expectations come increased costs. There's only so much the residential community can absorb. By the same token, there's only so much the business community can vTC absorb. The objective is to offer as much as we can and to spread the responsibility for paying for it."

The county's commercial and industrial tax base has declined from 24 percent to 22 percent over the past five years. The economic plan calls for raising that to 30 percent.

Mr. Howard emphasizes that supporting existing Howard businesses and helping them become more successful is as important as recruiting new businesses.

"If the business community in Howard County is stable and viable, that will be the most effective source for marketing and positive information," he says.

The county should try to mirror the concept that guides Columbia's development -- creating a community where people live, work and shop in close proximity, says Mr. Howard.

Committees from the county's Economic Advisory Council are studying the county's lack of affordable housing, an obstacle to those goals.

He says he hasn't formed an opinion on mixed-use zoning -- a current proposal that would combine homes, shops and businesses in one area.

Mr. Howard says he favors creating a quasi-governmental economic development authority, which would combine public and private resources. The county's General Assembly delegation is considering legislation to create such a body to replace the Department of Economic Development.

"It would remove the office from the vagaries of the electoral process and put less strain on the [county] budget," he says.

"If we find it necessary to use methods not yet considered to market the county, it will be dependent on the private sector to fund."

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