Ryland's big shoes

Moving out: Builder's move from Columbia to California leaves big gap in community affairs.

October 29, 1999

THE DECAMPMENT of the Ryland Group Inc. for California hits Columbia and Howard County harder than many might perceive. Contributions to charitable and civic works, the involvement of corporate talent on task forces and the presence of a talented work force cannot be replaced immediately.

The county's collective bruises were eased a bit with immediate news of various new concerns deciding to settle in Howard, drawn to its good schools, central location and amenities for families. One of the newcomers, Orbital Sciences Corp., will consolidate more than 200 jobs from Germantown in Montgomery County and Linthicum in Anne Arundel County in Columbia. A company spokesman said discounted fees for golf, health clubs and other activities helped close the deal.

Howard's economic experts can be pleased that very bad news involving the layoff of 100 employees could be followed so quickly by good news. They should not be overly consoled, though. They might want to explore as carefully as possible reasons for the departure of Ryland, a homebuilder that grew with Columbia and now takes a lot of the new town's history with it to Los Angeles.

Reports of the company's departure suggested its chief operating officer wanted to relocate in his home state. Even if true, that explanation offers little consolation. As a company that builds in communities across the country, Ryland might have remained headquartered in Maryland.

Some are saying the company was displeased with Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth initiative, choosing to see it as "anti-development." That view, if true, seems shortsighted. Smart Growth and healthy development are certainly not incompatible. County and state officials have to keep teaching this lesson, while hoping that new businesses will see their civic duty as clearly as did Ryland.

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