An advocate for affordable housing

Chamber to recognize developer Earl Armiger as its Business Person of the Year for his work

October 05, 2007|By Lisa Silverman | Lisa Silverman,Sun reporter

Mary Armiger recalled a speech from about 30 years ago when her husband, Earl, asked, "Will our children be able to afford housing in Howard County?"

"These words are still true today," Mary Armiger said. "Many people in our community, like teachers and hospital workers, can't afford to live here."

Earl Armiger, 65, chief executive officer and president of Orchard Development, has been a longtime advocate of affordable housing in Howard County. The 37-year county resident also is a supporter of philanthropy in the community, as evidenced by the $2 million contribution that he and his wife recently made to the Columbia Foundation.

"If Howard County did not have an Earl Armiger, then it would have to create one," said Malynda Madzel, who nominated Armiger for the award. "He's affected the landscape of Howard County in the most positive way."

The Howard County Chamber of Commerce will honor Armiger tonight at Turf Valley Resort and Country Club as its Business Person of the Year.

"From a business standpoint, he's never received the recognition that he deserves," said Pamela Klahr, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce.

Madzel has been Armiger's friend for almost 20 years. They met when they served on the board of the Chamber of Commerce, of which Armiger was president from 1991 to 1992.

"[Armiger] was kind of a celebrity around town," said Madzel, president of Business Match Inc. "I knew he was a well-established developer, and I was kind of in awe when I met him."

Armiger founded Orchard Development Co. in 1979 after he spent five years as a planning consultant. His fortuitous start happened when he helped the Sewell family's orchard off Oakland Mills Road in Columbia get rezoned for development. The Sewells insisted that Armiger also develop the land.

His business soon blossomed with the help of his wife, Mary, and mentor Tom Guidera.

"Tom financed my first development project," Armiger said. "He taught me how to be a businessperson. I've learned that you always have to do the right thing, regardless of the cost."

Mary Armiger founded Armiger Management in 1985 and played an important part in the success of her husband and his company.

"She's always been my partner and No. 1 adviser," Earl Armiger said.

Under Armiger's leadership, Orchard Development has developed land for more than 5,500 residences, many of them for low- and moderate-income earners.

"I just believe [affordable housing] is the right thing to do," Armiger said.

His company's current project, Patuxent Square, is a mixed-use retail and limited-income apartment building off U.S. 1 in North Laurel. The building is almost 100,000 square feet and is scheduled to open in April

"I'm fully committed to this project," Armiger said. "It's extremely important to help stimulate, revitalize, and set a standard for future growth in the Route 1 community."

Armiger's efforts for affordable housing began with the late County Councilwoman Ruth Keeton's work on subsidized housing and continued with former County Executive James N. Robey's Howard County Task Force on Affordable Housing. His work has earned him respect and admiration.

"I am very impressed with Armiger's commitment to the community," said William A. Ross Sr., a member of the Howard County Housing Commission. "He is definitely the leader in developing affordable housing."

Barbara Lawson, president of the Columbia Foundation, said she appreciates Armiger's dedication to Howard County.

"He has such a great heart and is a straight shooter," she said. "He's bold in his ideas, and he's bold in his speech."

In addition to the Columbia Foundation, the Armigers have supported other groups, including the Howard County Arts Council, Howard County General Hospital, Howard Community College, McDaniel College, the College of Notre Dame, the Howard County Domestic Violence Center and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Armiger's continued moral and financial support of the community does not surprise Klahr.

"He has a real enthusiasm for life," she said. "When he makes a commitment, he gives 110 percent. He's passionate about living."

This enthusiasm carries over to his personal life. He spends time with his six grandchildren on a regular basis, loves to travel and fish and goes skiing with his family every winter. He also enjoys crossword puzzles, which he completes every morning.

"I still remember when I was younger, he used to take me around to the different job sites with our German shepherd, and we'd watch raw ground turn into houses and roads," said Scott Armiger, vice president of Orchard Development, about his father. "Things haven't changed much. My dad's always had a great work ethic and a certain charm about him."

Earl Armiger also is recognized nationally as a developer. He served as chairman of the National Association of Home Builders Council on Senior Housing in 2003 and as chairman of the Housing Credit Group in 2002. He was vice president of the national association in 2001 and 2002.

Armiger said his most enjoyable leadership position was as president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland in 1990. The association includes Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil, Harford and Howard counties and Baltimore City.

"It was great to make a difference at the local level," Armiger said. "The people were great and didn't have an agenda."

Earl Armiger will receive his award as part of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce's 2007 Signature Event. Armiger, other award recipients and guests will be entertained by humorist Dave Barry. The theme of the event, presented by M&T Bank and Turf Valley Resort and Country Club, is "Funny Business."

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