The council that almost blinked AlliedSignal: Ecker had to scramble to preserve deal to keep major employer in Howard.

October 08, 1997

THE HOWARD COUNTY COUNCIL almost blew one of the biggest economic development deals it has faced in recent years. County Executive Charles I. Ecker made a wise move in bucking convention and agreeing to buy AlliedSignal Technical Service's 29-acre campus in Columbia. The aerospace firm was looking for a new home, perhaps in Fairfax County, Va. Mr. Ecker's arrangement sought to keep one of Howard's most important employers in the county. But the council, which had to approve the agreement, got careless and nearly kissed the company and its highly paid work force good-bye.

Initially, Councilman Darrel E. Drown suggested that he might oppose Mr. Ecker's decision to pay $7.5 million for the site, which includes 200,000 square feet of office and warehouse space. He expressed philosophical concerns about "corporate welfare." Fortunately, he realized -- or Mr. Ecker forced him to -- that rigid ideology was less important than economic reality.

Worse than Mr. Drown's initial opposition was council Chairman Dennis R. Schrader's flimsy objection. Before he voted against the proposal to pay $7.5 million, he offered an amendment to pay $6 million for the site.

Mr. Schrader is a Republican who plans to run for county executive -- Mr. Ecker can't, by law, run for a third term -- but his willingness to send an important company packing over an amount that is paltry, in the scheme of things, did not reflect the best leadership ability.

The arrangement also was threatened by the absence of a supporter, Councilman C. Vernon Gray. He is visiting China as a board member of the National Association of Counties. His absence would have come under fire had the AlliedSignal deal gone awry.

We don't know if the AlliedSignal site on Bendix Road is worth every penny the county will pay. Councilman Charles C. Feaga's statement that the land alone is worth $7 million seems a gross exaggeration. (By comparison, the Smith Farm in Columbia is 10 times the size and has been appraised for $7.7 million.) But what council members should have known all along is that the county gets a return on its investment when AlliedSignal builds its next home in Howard County. It was an unusual circumstance that called for a drastic measure.

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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