Carroll towns trying to lure industry Aim is to aid downtowns, use vacant properties

February 23, 1997|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Tired of depending on the county's economic development office to reel in new industry, some of Carroll's municipalities have begun baiting their own hooks, hoping to lure companies that will boost the tax base to balance rapid residential development.

Following the lead of Westminster, a city of 16,000 that has had an active economic development program for four years, Taneytown, population 4,660, and Mount Airy, with 5,240 residents, are working aggressively to revitalize their downtown business districts and find tenants for vacant industrial acreage.

They're not alone. Small towns in Carroll and across the state are finding that rapid residential growth without an accompanying increase in industrial and business development can leave them short of money to maintain streets or provide water and sewer services.

"New business and new industry, you can never have enough," said Mount Airy Mayor Gerald R. Johnson.

Taneytown and Mount Airy have tracts of undeveloped industrial land. To market that property, officials of the two towns are considering hiring economic development coordinators and are planning to list industrial sites on the Internet.

'A very competitive time'

"This is a very competitive time we're in, and obviously some of the less-populous jurisdictions are going to find it necessary to start their own economic development efforts," said Chuck Porcari, a spokesman for the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

Porcari said that when state officials meet with an industry that is interested in a specific town, it is useful to have the town's economic development representative on hand.

John T. Lyburn, Carroll's economic development director, said through spokeswoman Cindy Parr that he works with all of the county's towns. Parr said the county is most active with Hampstead and Mount Airy.

Porcari said he didn't have a count of towns with economic development programs but that municipalities in Frederick and Harford counties offer examples of a range of economic development efforts.

In Frederick County, Emmitsburg, population 2,100, formed an economic renewal committee in August. The committee is working to define what the town should be, said its founder, Dianne Walbrecker. "Then we go out and look for businesses that fill that need," she said.

Bel Air takes action

Bel Air, Harford's county seat, with a little more than half of Westminster's population, formed an economic development group in 1974 when Main Street was losing stores because of competition from new shopping malls.

The town has less than 10 acres of available industrial land, but commercial revitalization has been so successful that the community recently built a parking garage for 1,000 cars, said Carol Deibel, the town's planning and community development director.

Also in Harford, Aberdeen, with 13,500 residents, has an economic development commission with an $18,000 annual budget. The commission has produced a video that is available to commercial or industrial prospects, and it retains a marketing consultant.

In Carroll, towns with small amounts of industrial property are trying to encourage small businesses. Sykesville is working on downtown revitalization; New Windsor has a nascent business group; Manchester is encouraging local merchants to form an association; and Union Bridge Mayor Perry L. Jones has begun an inventory of available commercial properties.

Hampstead officials are relying on the county economic development office to market a 350-acre industrial tract on Route 482. The land, owned by Carroll County General Hospital, adjoins the county-owned 75-acre North Carroll Industrial Park.

Taneytown's economic revitalization efforts started about 18 months ago with the election of Mayor W. Robert Flickinger.

Taneytown festival

He sparked an economic development commission that sponsored Taneytown Day, a community festival, and is working on projects including downtown beautification and a business directory.

Taneytown "has probably been as active as anyone" said Michael G. Fish, a consultant from the Maryland Small Business Development Center who met recently with the merchants group that was also one of Flickinger's ideas.

"Towns have a responsibility to look out for themselves. You can't expect the state and county to do everything for you," said Taneytown City Manager Charles "Chip" Boyles.

The county government's main emphasis is larger businesses, he said, but the city economic development commission can nurture small businesses.

The City Council gave preliminary approval Feb. 10 to hiring a part-time economic development coordinator. The estimated $12,000 annual cost would be shared with the Chamber of Commerce.

Taneytown has 240 acres of industrially zoned land at nine sites but has been hindered by a leaky sewer system that occasionally allows raw sewage to back up into buildings during heavy rains. Under an order from the Maryland Department of the Environment, the city is working to upgrade and improve the system.

Mount Airy's economic development effort began when Mayor Gerald R. Johnson became concerned last year that the county economic development office wasn't aggressively pushing the town's industrial sites.

Mount Airy has 335 acres of industrially zoned land at five sites. About one-third of the town's vacant land is zoned industrial, a broad category that covers uses from offices to terminals.

Johnson began meeting in the fall with owners of industrial properties to work out a marketing strategy. The group is putting together a marketing brochure that the mayor says will go out "to the movers and the shakers."

He is negotiating with county officials and Pat Beck, owner of vacant industrial land that could benefit from the extension of Church Street to connect with Route 27. The main topic of the negotiations who will pay for the street construction.

Pub Date: 2/23/97

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