State aid helps business growth Howard companies get 'fair share' of development funds

September 29, 1997|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

A small granite shop in Howard County needed much more than a little elbow grease to become the major kitchen counter-top manufacturer it wants to be. It needed money -- lots of it.

So with assistance from the county Economic Development Authority, Marble Source Unlimited Inc. in Annapolis Junction secured a $900,000 loan from the state.

Marble Source is one of a dozen companies based in Howard that have secured $5.3 million in state economic development financing in 1996 and 1997. The individual awards for high-technology, spice, cosmetic and other companies range from $25,000 to $1.4 million to train workers and either help fund expansion or keep it within Howard's borders.

The Economic Development Authority and the state are working to sign at least a half-dozen more deals, county and state officials said.

"Howard County is very fortunate," said Robert C. Brennan, assistant secretary of financing programs at the state Department of Business and Economic Development. "It doesn't make calls to the state frequently, but when it does, we listen."

Rapid population and employment growth give the county clout in seeking state financial incentives for businesses, state and local economic development officials say.

Howard nonetheless received much less than other jurisdictions with much larger populations.

For fiscal years 1996 and 1997, Anne Arundel County received $21.2 million in state financing; Baltimore County, $10.3 million; Harford County, $9.4 million; and Baltimore City, $9.1 million.

Howard outpaced smaller Carroll County, which received $4.3 million.

Investment sense

Richard Story, executive director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, said companies in the county don't typically look for, or need, aid.

Also, he said, for many state programs, counties are required to pledge their full faith and credit behind a deal. Howard County won't do that.

"Considering our limited participation in state programs, Howard County is getting its fair share," Story said. "The state is investing where the investment makes sense. The trend here [in Howard County] is for companies to grow and prosper."

Government cooperation with business is paying off -- Howard's $5.3 million investment was used to create and retain about 3,500 jobs.

Business growth

The goal of Marble Source, the granite company, was to grow from 16 jobs to 60 as it converted from a 5,000-square-foot shop to an 18,000-square-foot factory.

It marketed its dreams to officials in Carroll, Prince George's, Montgomery and Allegany counties, "all the places looking for business growth," said John Congedo, the company's president.

"But Howard County was interested in keeping us, and it gave us the opportunity to stay in the community," he said.

Congedo said he wanted to expand the company's kitchen counter-top production,

With the economic development authority's assistance, the company applied for a loan under the Maryland Industrial Land Act, one of 13 state financing programs, said Andy Spitzler, spokesman for the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

Marble Source opened its expanded operations eight months ago. Since that time, the company has signed major contracts with two national home supply companies, Congedo said.

GTS Duratek, a hazardous-waste disposal company, and RWD Technologies Inc., which helps big corporate clients use technology to become more efficient, are two Columbia companies that also are expanding with the help of state funds.

Stay or go?

"Whether or not to stay in Columbia is a business decision the company visits on a regular basis," said Ronald Holtz, RWD's chief financial officer. "The pro-active stance the state and county have taken in supporting its businesses is part of our decision to stay on in Maryland."

The company received a $1.4 million loan from the state. That money will convert to a grant if RWD adds 578 employees and spends $11 million in capital investment by the year 2000.

GTS Duratek has been in Columbia since its inception in 1985. When it outgrew its headquarters, it shopped for a new location in Prince George's, Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties.

"This is the piece of the business that could be anywhere," said Robert Shawver, the company's executive vice president and chief financial officer. "But we were biased toward remaining in Howard County."

He praised the county's proximity to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, to Interstate 95 and Route 32, its "quality of life" -- and its economic incentives.

A $225,000 loan from the state is helping the company equip its new 35,000-square-foot building. It will become a grant if the company adds 42 positions.

"The incentives are well balanced," Shawver said. "We give back to the community by creating jobs, so there are economic returns to the state and the county."

Pub Date: 9/29/97

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