Economic officials told firm to stay in Prince George's But Micros Systems selects Columbia site

August 20, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Howard County officials say they landed the new worldwide headquarters for Micros Systems Inc. only after encouraging the Beltsville company to remain in Prince George's County.

But unable to find exactly what it wanted there or in Anne Arundel County and other areas -- including Northern Virginia -- the company selected Columbia, in large part because its proximity to universities and colleges will enhance recruiting.

"It was important to move to a new environment to attract engineers and highly skilled support staff," Peter J. Rogers Jr., vice president of business development and investment relations for Micros, said yesterday.

"In terms of recruitment, Howard County fits the model because we can pick up people from schools like Hopkins, UMBC, Loyola. These days, you can't find enough engineers and quality support staff," Rogers said.

Micros, which makes computer systems and software for the restaurant and hospitality industry, is expected to shift 650 employees to Columbia and add 100 more after the move. The company has 1,800 workers worldwide.

Other counties engaged in what officials said was a cordial competition to land the growing company. Anne Arundel County offered a loan of up to $300,000. It is not known what Howard County may have offered.

Bill Badger, senior vice president of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., acknowledged that officials were disappointed that their offer failed to persuade Micros officials to move into the National Business Park near Annapolis Junction.

"We all compete with each other, but at the same time, we're all committed to promoting the corridor," Badger said. "As long as our neighbors benefit, we will, too, in the long run."

Rogers said the firm is discussing with county and state officials a financial incentives package to help with the move. But public officials and company executives remained silent yesterday, saying the General Assembly's Legislative Policy Committee must approve any sort of financial offer.

County Councilman Darrel E. Drown said he doubted that the county would make an offer similar to the AlliedSignal deal, in which the county bought the firm's 200,000-square-foot building on 29 acres in Columbia for $7.5 million to keep it from moving out of the county. The company is building a new set of offices in Gateway.

"Typically, we don't raid another county with incentives," Drown said. "It would surprise me if we gave away the ranch on this one."

In fact, the competition was so courteous that Howard County officials initially told the firm's agents nine months ago they should try to work first with Prince George's County.

Counties are eager to land -- and retain -- such companies, which generally pay more in taxes than they receive in public services. Property taxes and piggyback income taxes from employees who live in counties where the companies are based help subsidize residential development.

But in the dance to attract these businesses, there's an unwritten code that is observed when a company seeks to move from one county to another in Maryland.

"Our policy is that we will work with a company considering moving to a new jurisdiction if there is a substantial number of new jobs or expansion at stake," said Mary Burkholder, assistant secretary of marketing for the state Department of Business and Economic Development. "We give the edge to the home county, but it's also important to retain jobs in Maryland. In this [Micros'] case, if we can't find a place in Prince George's, we're going to look in other counties to find good places."

When real estate brokers hired by Micros approached Howard County officials in December, "The first thing we asked them to do was, 'Have you talked to your county yet?' " said County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

Only after Micros representatives unsuccessfully sought a new site in Prince George's County did Howard officials begin researching suitable sites. After both sides agreed to build in Columbia Gateway, county planners approved the plan for the office building via the county's 30-day fast track process, which is targeted for business growth.

"We are pleased that they chose this location," said Richard Story, executive director of the county's Economic Development Authority. "We don't encourage taking business away from other counties, but when a company says it has decided to move to a new location, we'll do everything in our power to find a suitable place."

Construction of a $30 million, 250,000-square-foot office building in the business park at the southwest corner of Interstate 95 and Route 175 is expected to start in about two months, Rogers said.

Rogers said the firm, which operates out of four buildings in Beltsville, hopes to move into its new headquarters by spring 2000.

"We're real excited about this," Rogers said, noting Howard's proximity to Baltimore and Washington. "The location was fundamental. This opens up the entire corridor for us."

Pub Date: 8/20/98

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