Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger would be the first to admit that he likes to talk. And talk. And talk some more. Get the guy on a roll and he can make Larry King seem like a monk on a five-year vow of silence.
One of the executive's favorite topics of discussion is economic development in Baltimore County -- specifically, how to improve it. Two months after being sworn in as the county's top elected official, Mr. Ruppersberger has begun taking steps to turn talk into action on this crucial issue.
Late last month, he named a 19-member task force to craft policies for a more assertive economic development office. The new agency would likely be funded and operated by both the public and private sectors.
Business leaders might even take the lead role, Mr. Ruppersberger says. "They have a strong vested interest in how well the business environment is going in the county," he explains. "The better the environment for existing businesses, the more attractive it becomes for businesses that want to locate here, which in turn improves the situation even more for the existing firms."
The executive envisions a development office that would better promote the county's assets. These include a well-educated work force; a solid public school system; access to major waterways, interstate highways, train lines and airports, and an enviable location in a huge metropolitan region in the middle of the Eastern seaboard. International markets will also be pursued more aggressively by Baltimore County's development team, Mr. Ruppersberger pledges.
A key goal, he adds, must be the creation of high-wage jobs to attract and retain middle-class workers. During the 1980s and early 1990s in the county, the number of such positions dropped dramatically while the number of low-paying service and retail jobs rose, doing little good for the county's tax base and business climate.
To be sure, Baltimore County has its share of shortcomings -- a dearth of large developable tracts, a populace that gets poorer and older by the day, and a recent reputation for having an unfocused development strategy. There's also the school of thought that says conditions beyond human control dictate a jurisdiction's economic health. Still, Mr. Ruppersberger's aggressive, big-talking style, and his commitment to remake the economic development office, could help Baltimore County get down to some serious business.