Industrial needs studied

Report tells county to spend more to attract more businesses

March 04, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

Carroll County will have to spend more than $150 million to construct water and sewer connections over the next 20 years to expand the county's low industrial and commercial base, a new study reveals.

County and municipal officials mulled over these statistics from the report presented during a meeting of Carroll's Economic Development Commission.

If Carroll wants to transform its bedroom-community status, said Uri P. Avin, a consultant from Parsons Brinckerhoff in Baltimore, jobs must be created more rapidly than the county population grows.

"You want to announce to the region that Carroll County is ready and open for business," Avin told officials in a presentation Thursday. "Doing nothing will force you into a much bigger fiscal crunch over time."

In the Baltimore metropolitan area, Carroll receives the lowest percentage of its tax revenue from industrial properties. More county residents - slightly more than 50 percent - commute outside the county to their jobs than those in surrounding counties.

Only 11.6 percent of Carroll's assessable property is designated industrial - less than the state industrial base average of 16.9 percent and the fifth lowest among Maryland counties, according to last year's figures.

In the early 1990s, Carroll's business base was about 16 percent. As residential growth soared, that number dropped, county officials said.

The report, which took six months to complete and cost $105,000, recommends several remedies. Attracting businesses to Carroll's growing areas in the southern areas of the county and along the Routes 140 and 30 corridors was stressed in the report.

About 30 percent of industrial-growth zones lie within the borders of Carroll's municipalities, Avin said. Unfortunately, he said, the county's major industrial parcels lack water and sewer services, which deters businesses from relocating there.

More than 90 percent of those industrial parcels are 5 acres or less in size. "The bigger [parcel] the better," Avin said, to encourage large-scale development.

After the county adopts its updated comprehensive plan for growth, officials should rezone land to designate larger clusters for industrial and commercial development, Avin said.

A wider range of business zones and office parks, with built in incentives, would better attract developers, he said.

County planning director Steven C. Horn said later that these business goals perfectly mesh with the county's current process to update its comprehensive Pathways plan. But utility services and buildings must follow that pattern.

"Just zoning land for economic growth and development doesn't do anything," Horn said. "You have to follow up with facilities and services to help that development occur."

Carroll requires 4,600 new acres of industrial and commercial land to create the more than 40,000 new jobs required by 2030, Avin said. The Baltimore Metropolitan Council estimates that the county's population will have swelled by then to 220,000 residents.

The county's lack of a major roads network is another obstacle, according to the report. Jobs and residential growth will feel pressure to migrate up to Carroll from Howard County, which is nearly built out, Avin said. Better roads could enable that development, he said.

County Commissioner Michael D. Zimmer said his calls for extending interstate and U.S. highways into the county could address that deficiency.

"We are far, far behind some of our neighbors," he said. "It's time for some other levels of government to give us some help."

Carroll should try to lure businesses dealing with technology, professional services, finance and insurance - all thriving industries in the "new economy," Avin said. Such fields flourish in neighboring Howard County. But the bulk of Carroll's commercial jobs is in retail.

Carroll has some local assets, Avin said. The work force is highly educated and affluent, he said. While the ratio of jobs to residents is still low, it has been rising since the 1970s, he said.

Though the roads network is lacking, the county's location positions it within the growth trajectory pushing in from the east and south, he added.

Commissioner Dean L. Minnich asked Avin if he had ever worked with jurisdictions facing such growth-related challenges.

"All the time," he said. "The challenge here is a big crunch, but it's not insane."

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