Officials give views of area's future Business group told economic development is key to prosperity

January 05, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

Columbia Association President Padraic M. Kennedy told a local business group yesterday that the new town is not as young as it used to be.

"It's clear there has got to be a focus on the aging of Columbia -- not only the residents, but the facilities as well," Mr. Kennedy told the Columbia Business Exchange, a group that brings together local business people.

While highlighting Columbia's accomplishments since its 1967 founding -- namely, the town's recreation facilities and the high income and education levels of its residents -- Mr. Kennedy also said houses and driveways must be kept up.

To that end, the Columbia Association, a huge homeowners group that manages Columbia's recreation areas and common spaces, will offer low-interest loans for property maintenance to families that make less than $50,000 a year, Mr. Kennedy said.

Other new association initiatives include a proposed outdoor skating rink and a proposed athletic facility in the Village of River Hill, he said.

Mr. Kennedy cited two major community concerns -- crime and Maryland's slow economy.

Crime is "an issue that will require constant vigilance from all of us," he said. Although he did not discuss specific crime data, Mr. Kennedy said residents must work closely with police to reduce crime in their neighborhoods.

In discussing the economy, Mr. Kennedy said, "It's clear that the strength of Columbia is tied to economic development."

That point also was made by Richard W. Story, executive director of the county's Economic Development Authority. He told the group that more businesses are needed in Columbia to (( increase the commercial tax base. Howard County, he said, relies too much on residential property taxes, collected from residents who demand services.

"We want a 25 percent commercial tax base by the year 2000," Mr. Story said.

He said the economy of Columbia -- more so than Howard's -- will outpace the rest of Maryland. But he also said that the state's projected economic growth rate -- no more than 2 percent -- will lag that of the rest of the nation.

Mr. Story cited the shrinking federal government and the poor economies of Baltimore -- where 36,000 Howard County residents commute daily -- and Washington -- which draws 38,000 Howard commuters each day -- as reasons for Maryland's relatively flat economic growth.

Both cities "will continue to have problems. Their spirals will be downward," he said.

Mr. Story also presented data showing that Howard County jobs increased by 4.9 percent from 1993 to 1994, the third highest increase among Maryland counties. He predicted Howard would finish first in 1994-1995.

But he cautioned that many of the new jobs were in retail -- low-paying positions for people who often do not live in Howard or pay taxes in the county. And even if they lived in Howard, he said, such workers likely would not pay much in local taxes.

"These are jobs that are not contributing to the quality of life that we enjoy in Howard County," Mr. Story said. "We won't be spending a lot of time wooing the next Wal-Mart."

Mr. Story said he also is concerned about housing sales. Recent statistics show housing sales were down 15.4 percent from November 1994 to November 1995.

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