To attract business and industry to Carroll, the county's Economic Development Commission is suggesting the commissioners make Carroll's main entry points more appealing, carve more industrial tracts from mostly rural land and create a zoning designation that would attract high-tech employers.
"They're great things we should be working on," Jack Lyburn, Carroll County economic development director, said of the EDC's vision statement, a list of goals for 2002. "One big thing is to do something with the gateways, perhaps install `Welcome to Carroll County' signs. The creation of an employment campus is also a real high priority for us."
A seven-member committee is developing the employment campus zone with aid from county planners and Lyburn. If adopted by the three-member Board of Commissioners, the new zoning designation would ban department stores and recreational facilities on industrial sites.
Today, developers can establish about 50 types of businesses - including clothing stores and athletic clubs - on Carroll's industrial properties. Ideally, the land should be used for heavy industry or light manufacturing and distribution.
In South Carroll, the county's most populous area with nearly 30,000 residents, land zoned for industrial use is occupied by a Merritt athletic club, a Wal-Mart and Eldersburg Marketplace, a $35 million shopping center.
One of the area's few remaining industrial parcels, a 38-acre property in Eldersburg, soon might become home to a drive-in theater. The Board of Zoning Appeals is scheduled to continue its hearing on the proposed drive-in Monday.
The employment campus would combine light manufacturing and commercial uses that support industry, Lyburn said. Howard and Baltimore counties have encouraged such development for many years.
But Carroll has not been attractive to high-tech employers in the electronics, computer and service industries that typically occupy campus-style properties. The commissioners have said Carroll's remote location and lack of easy access to interstate highways contribute to the county's inability to attract industry.
"We need to work with the State Highway Administration to get good roadways that will draw industry," Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge told members of the EDC during the group's monthly meeting last month.
A scarcity of industrial land also is a major factor, according to Lyburn. Carroll has fewer than 1,000 acres of industrial land, 800 acres of which is not marketable because it lacks access to public water or sewer service, he said.
To encourage commercial and industrial growth - the kinds of projects that generate substantial revenue - the commissioners hope to carve industrial parks from land that is mostly rural.
The commissioners decided in April last year to move forward with a comprehensive countywide rezoning to expand Carroll's short supply of marketable industrial land. The commissioners are reviewing applications from 47 property owners with recommendations on their petitions from the planning commission.
The EDC strongly supports the countywide rezoning.
"We have to have more commercial and industrial land, and we have to have it fast," Lyburn said.
Said Commissioner Donald I. Dell: "There is no question in anyone's mind that we are limited by the lack of industrial land here, but we are still stymied by the state trying to control us as far as zoning goes."
State leaders consider many of the proposed rezonings contrary to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth initiatives, which aim to direct development to existing communities.
In addition to pushing for an employment campus zone and calling for more industrial land, the EDC has set goals for the new year:
Improve the appearance of the county's main entry points - Finksburg, Eldersburg, Hampstead and Manchester - with new signs and landscaping.
Provide needed infrastructure, including roads and schools, to support residential, commercial and industrial growth.
Encourage a more aggressive Industrial Development Authority. The quasi-public body receives about $1 million a year from the county to spur development.
"I think the vision statement spells it out," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier. "Many of these goals are goals that we share."
Since they took office in 1998, the commissioners have made economic development a priority. Their strategic plan, a "to do" list for their four-year term, calls for "business-friendly government processes and fee structures."