Embarrassment of Riches

March 15, 1994

If you heap on enough praise, is it possible for a whole county to feel embarrassed?

Perhaps, especially now that American Demographics magazine has joined a long list of admirers declaring Howard County a mecca for the affluent and highly educated.

Using data from the 1990 U.S. Census, the magazine ranked Howard fourth among the 20 jurisdictions in the nation with high concentrations of well-heeled residents.

It was the only county in Maryland cited. In fact, the accolades were so plentiful, even the most skeptical would have to blush.

For the most part, however, this is nothing terribly new. Beginning with Columbia's ground-breaking more than 25 years ago, the Rouse Co. redefined Howard as an industrial outpost between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., far removed from its rural, farm roots. State and county officials have since touted Howard's charms to lure businesses to relocate here.

Moreover, Howard's impressive ranking serves as a predictor for the county's future. The magazine focused only on areas of the country with populations between 50,000 and 500,000 people, where at least 15 percent growth occurred in the 1980s and the median income was $30,000 a year or better.

Through these narrow coordinates, Howard was chosen as much for its potential as its achievements. Jurisdictions such as neighboring Montgomery County, which shares many of Howard's demographic characteristics, failed to make the list because its population of 757,000 made it too large to expect significant growth over the next decade. Howard, the magazine determined, has room to grow.

That assessment was not lost on Dick Story, director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority. He said he would employ the magazine's report when the county seeks an improved bond rating this year.

As happy as were local economic development leaders, activists who have fought to stave off rapid development of the county must be deeply chagrined by the report.

There seems a certain inevitability about its forecast for Howard that lends credence to the old adage: Nothing succeeds like success.

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