Job growth in Anne Arundel

Director resigns: Executive Owens must ensure that county has tools to lure and retain business.

July 26, 1999

ECONOMIC development credentials weren't what carried Janet S. Owens into the Anne Arundel County executive's seat last year. Her support for education and personable style were the main attractions for voters to choose her over an incumbent with a solid business track record.

One of Ms. Owens' first acts, torpedoing an auto racetrack project, unsettled some who felt it could have been a major regional draw.

More questions arose this month when the president of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., the county government's quasi-private business recruitment office, abruptly quit -- curiously resigning during a groundbreaking for a shopping mall.

Ms. Owens may know what she doesn't want to do with economic development. But pretty soon she must decide what she does want to do -- and get busy doing it.

The reasons for Richard J. Morgan's resignation remain murky, but Ms. Owens seems very clear about the importance of job growth for the county and her administration. Her administration is scrutinizing the economic development agency with an extensive audit. However, Ioanna Morfessis, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Alliance, a regional trade group, had nothing but praise for Mr. Morgan's work even as she lauded Ms. Owens' commitment to economic development.

Anne Arundel has much going for it: Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the National Security Agency and the David Taylor Research Center. Its largest private employer, Northrop Grumman, employs 7,000 people.

Yet some of its neighbors, such as Howard County, offer greater economic incentives to complement state programs. With a voter-imposed cap on tax revenue, Anne Arundel government is hard-pressed to offer the array of tax credits its neighbors use to attract companies. Making matters worse was the County Council's cut of $150,000 from the economic development budget this year.

Finding the right leader for the county's economic development arm -- and giving that person adequate tools to compete -- must be priorities for Ms. Owens.

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