County executive makes first-person contact with businesses

April 21, 1995|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

As Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker made visits to companies yesterday for the county's business appreciation week, most business people hardly knew who he was.

That seemed fine with Mr. Ecker, who has made a habit of making visits to county businesses throughout his five years in office. For him, it was a return to comfortable territory -- and self-deprecating humor.

When asked why certain businesses got a visit from the county executive and not one of the other business appreciation teams blanketing the county this week, he answered, "They got the short straw."

Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr., who accompanied Mr. Ecker, seemed miffed by the question. "I'm the captain" of the visitation team, Mr. Rutter said.

"Joe got the short straw, too," said Mr. Ecker.

Not quite, said Richard W. Story, executive director of the County Economic Development Authority. "This was a well-crafted team," he said.

And their visits were carefully planned -- lunch with Donald Wood, who will become the next president of the county Chamber of Commerce; a tour of the Best Buy Warehouse, one of the county's newest employers; and a visit to Pace Inc., a manufacturer of electronic circuitry equipment looking to double its work space in the county.

None of the people visited yesterday voiced any complaints.

Mr. Wood, a regional executive for NationsBank, said branches are in three counties in his region and Howard is the only county that has government employees calling on companies each year.

"This impresses me," he said after his lunch with Mr. Ecker. "It gives me a better idea of how my company can support the community."

At Best Buy, Mr. Ecker presented district warehouse manager Cedric Butler a certificate of appreciation and a government pamphlet that included phone numbers of officials.

"When in doubt, call me and we'll get you to the right person," Mr. Ecker said. "We appreciate your being here, and if you have any problems or concerns, we will try to help you."

Mr. Butler wanted to know about employee discounts at Columbia Association recreational facilities. Mr. Ecker said association vice president Maggie Brown, a former aide to Mr. Ecker, would call and tell him.

Mr. Story said county officials expect such questions. "The whole system structured to follow up the same day," he said. "If they have an issue or concern, we'll fix it."

At Pace, general manager Lou Abbagnaro had no complaints. "For us, things are going pretty well, but we're always concerned about the cost of doing business," he said.

The company does about 50 percent of its business overseas, he said, and it is difficult to compete internationally -- especially in the field of electronics -- when labor rates are cheaper elsewhere.

"You do research?" Mr. Rutter asked. "The county recently passed a bill lowering the property tax of companies that do high-tech research."

About 25 percent of the company's work is devoted to research and will benefit from the lower tax.

After the tour, Mr. Ecker complimented Mr. Abbagnaro on the "family feel" of the 40-year-old business.

"You need anything when you start expanding, you call me," Mr. Rutter added.

Mr. Story was pleased with the executive's visits.

"This gets Chuck out to see first-hand what is happening," he said. "And it is probably the only time department heads get to go out in the business community on a friendly basis without enforcing their regulatory powers."

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