Credibility for the campaign trail Job creation: Ecker will tout Howard's No. 1 status when seeking nomination for governor.

September 02, 1997

CHARLES I. ECKER and economic development officials have reason to cheer about Howard County's job growth in recent years. The county has led the state, by far, in the number of new jobs created between 1990 and 1996.

When Mr. Ecker, the Howard County executive, hits the campaign trail in his bid for governor, the numbers will give him credibility as a business-friendly leader.

Impressively, the county has accomplished this without hitting an economic home run.

A few years ago, Coca-Cola Enterprises announced plans to build a regional headquarters and bottling plant in the Hanover section. When the deal fizzled, so did 500 new jobs.

Other Maryland jurisdictions have successfully recruited major firms with large numbers of jobs. But the Howard County Economic Development Authority generally went after smaller fish, effectively using its Small Business Resource to attract and retain firms.

Howard County added nearly 20,000 jobs over the six-year period, a substantial margin over the next closest jurisdictions, Baltimore and Frederick counties, with about 13,000 new jobs each.

In spite of this showing, the amount of credit Mr. Ecker can take for Howard's performance will remain open to debate.

A skeptic might say that job growth is nothing new, that the county's employment has boomed along with its population for decades.

That skeptic could argue that jobs in Howard increased by 75 percent in the decade before Mr. Ecker took office, and that the six-year rise is just more of the same.

But county officials would counter that the increase of the 1980s occurred when statewide employment also was growing at a brisk pace.

Between 1990 and 1996, however, employment growth in Maryland was an anemic at 1.7 percent, among the worst rates in the nation. Yet Howard's job growth approached 25 percent during that period.

Mr. Ecker, whose name recognition is limited outside of Howard, should get plenty of mileage from these numbers when he takes on Ellen R. Sauerbrey for the Republican nomination.

He will be able to challenge her on the business front as someone who has run a government that has created jobs.

Pub Date: 9/02/97

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