Shot in the Arm for Tourism HOWARD COUNTY

August 05, 1993

The decision by Shimadzu Scientific Instruments Inc. to build a training center near its plant in Columbia is good news for Howard County.

Shimadzu, a maker of highly sensitive measuring instruments, is promising 50 new jobs and -- perhaps more important -- 1,500 scientists and technicians from around the country who will travel to Howard to train at the new facility each year. Those visitors translate into potentially big tourism dollars.

Unfortunately, one can't estimate how big a potential impact, or how it might measure up against overall tourism in Howard County.

State and local officials simply don't have any recent figures on tourism. The latest data from the Maryland tourism office are statewide figures from 1990. Numbers from the county's own tourism council are practically historic, dating to 1987.

Even as stale as they are, however, the numbers illustrate how critical the tourist trade is to the economy of Howard County and Maryland.

In 1987, tourists in Howard racked up $415 million in expenditures, causing the county to rank 10th in the number of tourist dollars it collected. Visitors to the county supported a payroll of $104.5 million, and an industry that generated more than 5,600 jobs. One can only wonder what has happened since the recession hit.

Statewide, in 1990, more than 19 million people visited Maryland, spurring the economy by spending close to $4.5 billion. That's a rich vein that the county undoubtedly taps into. But again, to what extent?

Despite the poor track record on data, Howard's tourism council is making strides, especially considering that the office has been beefed up to include two full-time and one half-time employee.

With the 5 percent hotel tax that took effect the last fiscal year, the tourism agency's budget has quadrupled, to $200,000. And its clever "Howard Who?" postcard campaign in the media this year has been credited with drawing new trade to the county.

The council should be commended for this effort.

As for Shimadzu, its decision to build a training center in Columbia is another plume in the county's cap and -- numerical projections aside -- can't help but have a positive impact on the local economy.

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