Howard County's economic development blueprint is a significant document in that is sets out a potential road map for a county sorely in need of direction. Since County Executive Charles I. Ecker took office nearly 10 months ago, he understandably has been preoccupied with extinguishing fiscal fires. The economic vision he so ardently championed during his campaign was put on hold -- until now.
Much in this plan, a four-month effort of 19 government, business and civic leaders, is pro forma. It calls for, among other things, a marketing program to attract corporate and regional headquarters, emphasize the importance of commerce to county residents, foster partnerships with federal, state and local organizations and promote work force development. The plan also suggests a venture capital financing pool and assisting businesses snared in regulatory red tape.
One particularly good idea is creating a high-technology council focusing on technological issues and providing advice and support for fledgling hi-tech concerns. This is aimed at diversifying Howard's employment base and strengthening a promising avenue of economic growth.
This report recognizes and articulates the need for synergism between government and commerce. Advancing this agenda won't be easy. The fact that Howard has not had a written economic development blueprint since 1978 illustrates the extent to which the county government has focused on residential development.
That this fast-growing jurisdiction is beginning to take a serious look at its economic future is a good sign.
The danger is that this report, like adequate facilities legislation and affordable housing, will percolate indefinitely. Mr. Ecker needs to set priorities and formulate strategies. One of the first things he should do is elevate the county's Office of Economic Development to department-level status.
A growing percentage of Howard's residents -- 40 percent -- live and work in the county. The vast preponderance of its job and capital formation springs from the existing business community. During his campaign, Mr. Ecker rightly pointed out that economic development had been left to flounder by his predecessor, Elizabeth Bobo. It's time he made good on his campaign promise to do better. This report is a good place to start.