The Catch That Might Get Away

April 27, 1994

There is an old saying that you haven't caught a fish until it has landed in the boat. Carroll County officials thought Freewing Aircraft Co. was not only hooked, but reeled and safe in the live box, too. Now, however, the most recent economic development catch for Westminster's Air Business Center may be slipping away.

Freewing is an aircraft manufacturer that employs a revolutionary wing design that flexes in turbulent air to provide a smoother ride. The firm, begun in a small business incubator at the University of Maryland at College Park, was prepared to build a plant next to the airport. The company needed 20,000-square feet of manufacturing space with room to grow. Although the company will start out with just a few employees, Freewing sees potential for expansion.

After much negotiating, the county offered Freewing a three-acre site that housed the old recycling barn off Route 97. Now it turns out that about two-thirds of the proposed building would encroach on an obstruction-free zone that the Federal Aviation Administration requires for plane landings in poor visibility conditions. County officials now fear that Freewing's executives may pull out of the deal if the proposed site can't accommodate expansion.

Making sure all the pieces of this economic development puzzle fit is a difficult job. Because Freewing is a start-up venture, it needed a complicated public financial package, which was assembled. It also needed space next to a runway so it could roll out its planes and test them. That, too, was arranged.

It appears this mix-up can be traced to a consultant who indicated the obstruction-free zone was one size when the parcel was marketed, then upped the size upon reviewing the final construction drawings. Do we need more proof that Carroll County must get its economic development act together? This unfortunate situation underscores the necessity of hiring a full-time economic development director to oversee these crucial projects.

Carroll's Economic Development Commission is working on alternatives to keep Freewing in the county; it may know by the end of this week if the company will accept them. Even if the problems are sorted out, this snafu sends out the message that Carroll County doesn't have a professional economic development effort. That is not the type of publicity a job-hungry county needs.

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