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Aggressive economic development plan proposed for Howard Co.


A long-range economic development plan for Howard County released yesterday calls for a more visible, aggressive effort that will try to attract specialized manufacturing firms, international business, health-medical industries and corporate or regional business headquarters, while encouraging local business expansion.

The plan was drawn up during the past four months by a 19-member committee that includes eight members of a subcommittee of the county's Economic Development Advisory Council, Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray and various civic and public officials. It was presented to County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who said he will review the report and determine its fiscal impact before acting on its recommendations.

The 47-page plan recommends that the county's Office of Economic Development, headed by Dyan Brasington, be expanded and given department-level status. The new department would include agricultural promotion, farmland preservation and the employment and job training programs.

The county's farmland land preservation office recently switched from the Department of Planning and Zoning to Economic Development, and the employment and job training programs are administered by the Department of Citizen Services.

The plan sets out six goals for the suburban county with a labor force of 98,000, 40 percent of which work in the county. Almost 75 percent of its job and capital development come from the existing business community, the report said.

The plan calls for the county's Office of Economic Development to:

* Support existing county businesses by considering the development of a working capital revolving fund or a venture capital pool; serve as an ombudsman to assist businesses going through the county's regulatory process; promote local tourism and special events; and create a center for agricultural services.

* Attract new business and corporate and regional headquarters by developing a marketing plan that includes a direct mail campaign, advertising, trade shows and seminars and working with the state and regional organizations to develop business prospects.

* Serve as an advocate for business to help promote public improvements "so development can occur in a managed fashion as the market might dictate" by participating in the comprehensive re-zoning process and other county master plans as well as promoting work force development, housing programs, transportation improvement, farming, tourism, arts, recycling and "quality of life" issues.

* Communicate the importance of economic development to county residents by developing a communications-marketing plan that would identify "the role that business taxes and revenue play" in the county; work with curriculum development in schools on the importance of business; cooperate with local and regional business organizations to communicate "a positive business message" and place feature articles about county businesses in local media.

* Foster partnerships for economic development with federal state and local organizations.

* Increase commitment to quality-of-life issues by advocating a balanced stable tax base reflecting 25-30 percent commercial and industrial development and 70-75 percent residential; monitor rezoning and growth patterns in the county's General Plan; attract firms that perform work that is helpful to the environment; participate in community events and solicit public comment and involvement. Local chamber officials, who advocated similar points in a position paper earlier this year, spoke favorably of the county's economic plan, which Ms. Brasington said was the first plan the county "had on paper" since 1978.

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