The county next door In planning for 2010, officials could learn from Montgomery.

March 03, 1998

TO LEARN what Howard County could become a decade from now, look at its neighbor to the southwest. Put aside, for a minute, the vast difference in size between Montgomery and Howard counties. And forget, for now, that one county is exclusively a Washington suburb while the other sits equidistant from the nation's capital and Baltimore.

In planning, Howard may be able to learn more from its demographic big brother Montgomery than from similar-sized "outer" suburbs. For starters, Howard and Montgomery are among the wealthiest counties in the nation. The median household income was $66,300 in Howard and $64,200 in Montgomery last year. Both have undergone rapid growth, with Montgomery becoming the state's most populous jurisdiction and largest employer. Their school systems are considered the cream of the crop in Maryland.

Montgomery matured into a booming suburb decades before Howard, and Executive Douglas M. Duncan's county, no doubt, imagines itself to be more cosmopolitan than its northern neighbors. But the demographic changes predicted for Howard in 2010 almost mirror the present in Montgomery. The Economic Forum of Howard County, which has consulted with business and government leaders, projected that Howard's population will become older, include more than 100 ethnic groups and will look to redevelop older communities after running out of developable land.

That would all sound familiar to Montgomery. Silver Spring, the aging suburb, faces the challenge of revitalizing itself, with the help of $21.5 million from the governor. Also, minorities make up one-third of Montgomery's population. Howard's minority population is 22 percent and growing, largely because of an influx of foreign-born residents.

Montgomery is second to Baltimore County in the number of residents older than 65, while Howard has the fastest-rising rate of elderly.

Changes coming Howard's way will make it richer in terms of diversity and perspective, but will also present tremendous challenges, as Montgomery has found. Howard must develop opportunities in housing, jobs, transportation and education to prepare for a future that looks more like the county next door.

Pub Date: 3/03/98

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