High-tech is way to grow, EDA reports 10-year strategic plan says aiding, attracting such firms top priority

Marketing muscle offered

59% increase in jobs among goals sought by development authority

September 26, 1997|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Ten years from now, Howard County could be Maryland's version of Silicon Valley -- if officials at the Economic Development Authority have their way.

Howard's highest potential for economic growth is in high-technology industry, EDA officials say. And to make that happen, the EDA has vowed to put its marketing muscle behind attracting such companies and helping fledgling ones grow.

This goal is the centerpiece of a comprehensive, 10-year strategic plan the EDA presented yesterday to Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker and EDA supporters at a meeting.

The plan deals with broad objectives, such as work force readiness, business retention, expansion and attraction, and details how to achieve them.

Among its objectives by 2007:

A revised tax structure, with new tax incentives for businesses.

A 59 percent increase in jobs, to 160,000.

An advertising campaign and direct-mail strategy to attract new companies -- especially high-tech ones -- to Howard.

EDA and county officials readily acknowledge the plan is ambitious, but they say it can be accomplished.

"Some of these things have to happen for us to have economic development," Ecker said.

For the EDA, a nonprofit corporation whose primary task is to create jobs in the county, banking on the high-tech industry makes sense, say members of the task force that drafted the strategic plan.

"We have to be aggressive to compete in today's market," said David Berson, an economist for Fannie Mae and a member of the Columbia Council.

"We're trying to keep Howard County successful with good job growth in industries that will survive," he said. "And the high-tech and biotech industries will most likely be leaders in the next century." In fact, the EDA has narrowed its focus on the type of employment sectors it should target to five: high-tech, biotech, informational technology, data processing centers and national, divisional and regional headquarters, according to the strategic plan.

To further support the high-tech industry, the plan calls for creating a business incubator to house 12 start-up technology ,, companies. The incubator would provide affordable office space, secretarial help, fax services and other financial and managerial services that entrepreneurs can share, said Richard Story, the -- EDA's executive director.

The incubator idea has been around since at least 1990, Ecker said. It was part of the mission of the Jim Rouse Entrepreneurial Fund, an independent, nonprofit corporation founded by the county Chamber of Commerce in 1993 to give financial help to start-ups.

But the venture has always been hindered by lack of money to buy the needed 10,000- to 20,000-square-foot space, Ecker said.

The incubator eventually could be one of the uses of the AlliedSignal headquarters building, he said. The county is negotiating with the company to purchase the 200,000-square-foot building and its surrounding 29 acres to keep AlliedSignal from leaving the county.

Ecker has said the building, if purchased by the county, would be used to house government offices that now are renting space throughout the county.

If the sale goes through, AlliedSignal will remain in the building for two years while its Columbia headquarters is built.

The possibility of moving the incubator there afterward is "still something we have to study," Story said.

The strategic plan is ambitious, but necessarily so, said Patrick L. Huddie, EDA board member and chief executive officer of Microcosm, a scientific instruments company in Columbia.

"The county and the business community have real needs and if the Economic Development Authority doesn't address them, who will?" he asked. "It is our task."

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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