Economic Balls and Strikes

September 03, 1994

Watching a state's economy is like watching baseball (when we're able to watch baseball): Everyone agrees a team's success is measured over the long haul, but fans always bicker about their team's potential based on the last few games.

In Maryland, business officials, academics and others are trying to make sense from a recent sequence of economic development wins and losses.

In the manufacturing field, Maryland had several setbacks this summer: London Fog said it would sever its 63-year-old ties with Maryland, moving all local clothing manufacturing operations (and 700 jobs) overseas. Coca-Cola is delaying construction of a Howard County plant (400 jobs) in response to changes in the soft drink market. Starbucks Corp. chose York, Pa., over Harford County for a 275-employee coffee roasting and distribution plant.

Maryland did score two big wins on the industrial side: Time Warner Inc.'s plan to build a $37 million warehouse in White Marsh for its movie and TV-related merchandise, and Martin Marietta's Bethesda complex as the headquarters for a proposed Lockheed Martin defense conglomerate, the nation's largest. Moreover, the state has been doing quite well on the retail side of the ledger. J.C. Penney just opened a new anchor at Glen Burnie's Marley Station mall. FAO Schwarz, the renowned toy emporium, is opening its first Maryland store in Towson Town Center. Harford County has a commercial construction boom under way with major shopping center renovations all around its U.S. 1-Route 24 crossroads.

Momentum counts in sports and economic development. The attraction and retention of widely recognized companies enhances the state's sales pitch to outside firms and bolsters confidence for existing business.

Maryland's recent wins and losses probably give us a fair indication of what the future portends: Major manufacturing coups are going to be rare in a state with higher labor costs. Distribution warehouses will continue to be drawn here due to the state's key location as the "mid" in Mid-Atlantic. The region's institutions and brainpower will attract technology ventures, and the high household incomes will continue to fuel retail expansion. An aggressive economic development strategy from the next governor is imperative.

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