'Rolls Royce' Needs a Driver HOWARD COUNTY

August 30, 1993

Howard County has lost another economic development director, casting doubt on the county's ability to keep businesses here and to attract new ones. Howard may be, as one council member said, the "Rolls Royce" of counties. But no one should underestimate the role that the economic development office plays.

It took less than a year for the county to lose two economic development directors. The first, Dyan Brasington, left last October to become West Virginia's director of economic development at a salary of $125,000 a year. William Howard, who began his tenure only last November, is said to be leaving to pursue other opportunities.

County Executive Charles Ecker said Mr. Howard's departure was not a forced resignation, but others say Mr. Howard ran afoul of key members in the business community and had to be let go. Some compared him unfavorably to Ms. Brasington, whose style and diplomacy wowed the business community.

Whatever the circumstances surrounding Mr. Howard's departure, they are not as important as the fact that he is leaving. As Councilman Vernon Gray said, "This is a Rolls-Royce county, but we can't seem to find a driver for more than six months."

Mr. Howard's departure comes at a critical time for the county. Negotiations are continuing with Coco-Cola Enterprises Inc. over land acquisition for a waste-water treatment facility that will abut Coke's planned bottling and syrup plant in Dorsey. This is one of the biggest projects in the entire state, and it requires careful shepherding if it is to come off properly.

In addition, there is the county's new Economic Development Authority that will replace the Department of Economic Development. As a new entity created as a public-private partnership, the authority will also require strong leadership to launch it.

Mr. Ecker hopes to have a replacement for Mr. Howard by Oct. 1. Whoever he chooses must have the ability to balance a wide variety of interests and people. Howard County is still mopping up after the ravages of the recession. Maximum advantage must be taken of the current slow-growth economy. For the county to be truly successful, it cannot rest on its location and laurels. Economic development requires a strong and dynamic steward.

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