Fighting back against the loss of some big employers, Baltimore County lent or gave away more money in the past year for business development than any other county in the state, according to recently released figures.
The more than $1.6 million in aid went for six projects, ranging from the expansion of a nonprofit school to new headquarters for ahealth care provider with $2 billion a year in revenue, in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
The county also put up $300,000 to guarantee loans made by a group of banks to small businesses, all part of a more aggressive economic development strategy, county officials said.
"We felt strongly we needed to give businesses an incentive to not only stay but to expand in Baltimore County," said County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who has pushed for more financial aid for business.
Ruppersberger credits new loan and grant programs with helping the county gain more jobs than any other jurisdiction in the state in the past two years.
From 1994 to 1996, the county gained 12,243 jobs, almost 3,000 more than Howard County, which had the next biggest increase, according to federal labor statistics.
Baltimore County's annual average employment reached 331,622 last year, despite setbacks that included the loss of 430 jobs from the closing of the Stroh Brewing Co. plant in Halethorpe.
Previous administrations also made loans to businesses, but Ruppersberger has increased the financial incentives since entering office in 1995. Under his tenure, the county has made loans and conditional grants totaling more than $3 million, about $1,500 for each new job.
"One of our big priorities has been creating jobs," Ruppersberger said. "You must give economic development the tools and resources and quality people."
Almost every jurisdiction in the state offers some kind of financial incentives to businesses in conjunction with federal and state aid programs. The largest program is in Baltimore, where the Baltimore Development Corp. lent more than $3 million to 12 businesses last year.
But only Baltimore and Montgomery counties operate aid programs that give and lend money to businesses.
Most members of the Baltimore County Council support the aid funds. The council voted to increase appropriations from $1 million last year to $1.5 million this year.
"Promoting business is the way we handle unemployment and other social problems," said Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican.
But Councilman Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat, raises a rare voice in criticism of the giving and lending programs.
"One of my biggest problems is who gets the money and who doesn't," he said, explaining that his objection was philosophical and not a criticism of any particular deal. "It's not broad-based and with everyone treated fairly," he said.
DePazzo also questioned whether the financing programs can be credited with the job growth or whether the business nTC expansions would have occurred anyway.
Only a small fraction of the more than 400 companies the economic development department dealt with in the past year received financial aid. The county's biggest win -- a decision by MBNA Corp., a large credit card company, to establish its regional headquarters in Hunt Valley -- involved no financial aid.
Ruppersberger said the grant programs are an important part of the county's job creation strategy.
"By doing it through jobs, you don't have to raise taxes," he said.
Other counties have the same philosophy. Harford County has given tax breaks in the past few years to five companies, including Saks Fifth Avenue and McCormick & Co., for large expansions. The county twice made business loans to help companies already in Harford, said Paul Gilbert, the county's economic development director.
Anne Arundel and Howard counties operate private economic development corporations that lend money raised through fees and donations.
Several counties contribute to loan pools in conjunction with banks. A few offer help through voter-approved revenue bonds, and Allegany County builds business parks to attract employers.
Montgomery County operates an aid program similar to Baltimore County's that last year made conditional grants to 17 businesses for a total of $670,000 and one loan of $70,000, county economic development officials there said.
In Baltimore County, one grant was given last year -- $100,000 to Integrated Health Services, a health care services provider, to help the company build a $50 million headquarters in Loveton. The county also lent $100,000 and pledged $600,000 in infrastructure improvements for the project.
"Integrated Health Services could have gone anywhere in the country," said Stanley H. Jacobs, the economic development department's chief financial officer.
Besides offering money, the state and county worked to help Integrated Health find the site in Loveton.