Shortly before he left Baltimore County government eight years ago, Robert L. Hannon put together a deal that was supposed to turn 400 acres of Sparrows Point land donated by Bethlehem Steel Corp. into a business park.
Now he'll get a chance to finish the job.
Mr. Hannon has been named economic development director by County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III. It will be Mr. Hannon's second time around in the critical post.
Currently executive vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp., Mr. Hannon is well respected in the business, and his appointment was greated with praise and optimism. He will start work May 1.
Richard W. Story, economic development director for Howard County, said Mr. Hannon's background will allow him to deal from a position of strength.
"Bob has experience that spans both the private and public sector which few others in his field have in the area," said Mr. Story, who was Baltimore County's development director from 1989 to 1991.
"It feels great to have a professional who understands economic development, who understands Baltimore County and can hit the ground running," said Patricia A. Winter, executive director of the Eastern Baltimore Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Sparrows Point business park, the butt of more than a few jokes in business circles, is symbolic of the problems Mr. Hannon faces as he tries to revive the county's flagging development fortunes and carries out a plan to put much of his department's work into private hands.
The deal with Bethlehem Steel was worked out in 1987. But the county didn't get title to the land until 1992, and the property still has not been developed because studies show the environmental and infrastructure costs will be high.
Mr. Ruppersberger, a Democrat, made the Sparrows Point business park a campaign issue in the fall when he defeated Republican incumbent Roger B. Hayden.
Ms. Winter said the county, through a lack of experience in recent years, tried to market the property before it was ready for development.
"Bob Hannon won't make that kind of mistake," she said.
Mr. Hannon, 48, directed the county's development efforts from 1983 to 1987 under County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson. It was a time when the county was still a prime location for developers.
But the intervening years have not been as kind, and the the county has seen residential and commercial developers and corporations head for neighboring jurisdictions instead.
Mr. Hannon said regional cooperation is the key to addressing Baltimore County's problems today.
"Obviously I will be aggressive in putting forward the best face of Baltimore County, but I also will work closely with other jurisdictions to keep and attract businesses in the region," he said.
Even if a business locates in the city or in Harford County, he said, it can still benefit Baltimore County's economy.
The county executive, who called Mr. Hannon the most experienced person available for the job, said the new director shares his goal of making the private sector a partner with the county.
Mr. Ruppersberger has a task force working on transferring many economic development chores to private groups.
He said that once the plan is in place, Mr. Hannon's $88,000 salary could be increased with private contributions.
Mr. Hannon comes to the county from the quasi-public agency that deals with city economic development. There he was responsible for Baltimore's efforts to attract new business.
Mr. Ruppersberger said he did not initially consider Mr. Hannon for the county job because he was reluctant to ruffle feathers in the city. But he eventually convinced Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke that Mr. Hannon and the county were a perfect match.
"If this is an example of how Dutch and I will work together, that the future of both the city and the county is pretty bright," Mr. Schmoke said.