Survey says Howard must do more to attract desirable firms to relocate County competing with municipalities all over U.S.

November 04, 1997|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

A marketing study released yesterday reveals Howard County is on target in the types of businesses it attracts, but it must do more to distinguish itself as a desirable location amid fierce competition.

Howard County should pursue national, divisional and regional headquarters, high-technology and bio-technology companies and information processing offices, according to the $10,000 study commissioned by the county Economic Development Authority.

But Howard is competing against many of the 3,500 counties around the nation -- and some of its neighbors in the Baltimore area.

High-technology companies are "money makers that can boost a county's economy because they pay wonderful salaries, employ wonderful people and make lots of money," said Jacqueline Byers, research director for the National Association of Counties.

"Because many counties want these types of companies, they must draft a succinct marketing plan to separate them from the competition," she said.

Economic development officials throughout the Baltimore area say they are going after the same industries as Howard County. "Everyone's list includes high-technology companies," said Robert L. Hannon, Baltimore County's director of economic development.

While they may not have paid for a marketing strategy report, many counties have undergone some self-analysis to figure out how to promote themselves and determine which businesses should receive the message.

"Every county has different selling points," said Cindy Parr, marketing manager for Carroll County's Department of Economic Development.

Howard's EDA has a marketing budget of about $125,000, one of the largest in the area.

The study suggests that the EDA increase its budget to send out direct mailings to growing companies with as many as 750 employees; make personal visits to companies in New York, Boston and the San Francisco/San Jose areas; and buy ads in upscale media.

At the other end of the spectrum is Harford County, which designates about $13,000, or 2 percent of its annual economic development budget, to marketing.

Harford relies heavily on regional efforts to get its message out, said Paul Gilbert, director of that county's Office of Economic Development.

"We have had success," he said, touting the county's recent acquisitions of distribution centers for Gap Inc., Clorox and Rite-Aid. "And it's not because we placed a $20,000 ad and businesses decided to come."

Howard may be more aggressive than its neighboring counties, but it's necessary, county officials said.

"As we move ahead to the 21st century, counties are experiencing a different kind of economy," said County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, who attended a news conference to release the study. "Now it's driven by the type of businesses a county can attract.

"It's really a competitive situation," he said. "Counties are moving into the realm of competing with other counties, and [do] not depend solely on states."

But Howard may hit a snag, says the study, which was conducted by consultants at the Wadley-Donovan Group, a New Jersey site-location firm.

The county has the right assets -- a growing population, an

educated work force, proximity to Baltimore-Washington International Airport and area colleges and universities -- to go after businesses. But its future success could be thwarted by suburban ills such as poor public transportation, few low-wage workers and high housing costs, the study says.

Richard W. Story, executive director of the Howard EDA, said such challenges are a "product of Howard's success."

The county has a list of 125 prospective companies that have found Howard through real estate brokers and the efforts of the state. The goal, Story said, is to be more active in reaching firms that haven't heard of the county.

"We'll lose more than we'll win," he said.

Pub Date: 11/04/97

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