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NEW ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT HEAD 'SENSITIVE' TO SPRAWL

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Dyan Lingle Brasington has seen both ends of the spectrum when it comes to economic development, and in Howard County, she will get to deal with both of them at once.

On March 4, the 39-year-old Florida native will begin leading the effort to improve the county's economy as head of its Economic Development Office.

The office has been without a permanent leader since Barry Bogageresigned last March.

As chief of economic development in the largely rural/bedroom community of Prince William County, Va., and in thedevelopment-saturated economic powerhouse of Montgomery County, Brasington believes she has a handle on both ends of Howard County's economic picture.

"I think I'm a good match for the county," Brasington said in an interview at her Rockville home last Wednesday, the day after County Executive Charles I. Ecker announced her appointment to the $69,400-a-year job.

Ironically, she had to leave her Montgomery County post at least partially as a result of the sentiment that helped boost Ecker into office in November.

Like Ecker's predecessor, M. Elizabeth Bobo, Brasington's boss, Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer, was blamed by many voters for sprawling residential andcommercial growth that far outpaced government's ability to provide the roads and schools to service it.

After Kramer was replaced by Republican Neal Potter, Brasington said, a "political decision" was made that she be replaced.

Brasington said it's true she doesn't mind growth, as long as it is the growth of the marketplace and the growth of business, not "houses sprawling and bulldozers" or "the ugly 'G' word" conjured up in the campaign.

"It's important and I'm verysensitive to it," she said.

"Managed and balanced are to me the absolute watchwords by which you move forward."

Using that philosophy, Brasington said "growth management," as Ecker calls it, does not have to be the enemy of economic development.

"It could be seen asa good thing for a community to have rather than a bad thing, kind of like an insurance policy for your investment."

Businesses, sheadded, do not want to be stifled by choked highways any more than becut off by growth control.

County planners must be aware that growth control "cannot be so stringent as to make doing business intolerable or as to not take best advantage of the swings in the marketplace, which you can't control," she said.

But that's just the sort ofdecision-making she said she expects to be a part of, now that thereare no middlemen between economic development and the executive.

It's important to have input into planning, she said, "so that reasonable ground can be reached to make both sides happy," or at least, "aplan that nobody likes but serves everyone well."

Despite the closeness to power, Brasington will not enjoy the department head statusor the budget that some county business leaders would like her to have.

In stark contrast to her Montgomery program, which had a $2.1 million annual budget and a staff of 28, she will be running an office with a budget about a quarter that size and a staff of six.

Although Brasington said she wouldn't mind bringing her staff with her, she said there are ways around the limited budget, such as getting businesses to sponsor networking events and pool their money for advertising.

As if a county's economic woes aren't enough for one person to worry about, Brasington has to keep track of her husband, Marine Corps Lt. Col. B.A. "Scot" Brasington, who is helping train and organize Saudi-based Marines gearing up for action in the gulf war.

She is also the mother of a 10-week-old son, David, and 9-year-old daughter, Meghan.

She gets help in that department from a Swiss student serving as the Brasingtons' au pair.

Brasington said she got into her field not through college training, but by writing about it.

"Economic development is not something you major in in college," although a scattered few institutions offer programs, she said.

Rather,after graduating from Florida State University in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in marketing and master's in speech communications, she got a job with the Florida state government creating its first economic development newsletter.

"When you write about something, you learn everything that's going on with it," and her knowledge of the field prompted her state employers to encourage her to become an economicdevelopment representative.

After taking courses in the subject, she became an industrial representative for that state's commerce department, and in 1983 received an offer to run her own program in Prince William County.

"I was anxious to work at the local level. At the local levels, you can really make the deals," she said.

During her tenure, the county's employment growth far exceeded the state average and a major "off-price" retail center, Potomac Mills Mall on Interstate 95, was built.

The mall has since mushroomed into a giantretail complex and a major corporate park, said John Gessaman, who was Brasington's marketing manager and now directs the office himself.

"Before the mall was built, there wasn't even any water and sewerout there."

But Brasington was able to provide the bridge betweenindustry and government to get necessary infrastructure put in, he said.

"The permitting and regulatory community were working very closely with us, not to do away with the regulations but to walk us through the process," Brasington said.

That "ombudsman" role, as she calls it, has turned into political fallout from the ouster of Kramer.

Her successor in Montgomery has questioned the wisdom of "facilitating" commercial development while the county had 5 million squarefeet of vacant office space.

But Brasington strongly disagrees with the characterization of her program as encouraging fruitless development.

"If a developer had a problem . . . and we could help get that problem solved, we would. Did we encourage developers? The answer is 'no.'"

Commercial development is something controlled by markets, not governments, she said.

She said her strategy in Montgomery involved marketing research and education facilities such as the ones run by the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University in a county-owned Shady Grove Life Sciences Center.

Those facilities in turn attract companies that are willing to pay higher rents in order to be close to them, she said, adding that she would like to try that in Howard.

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