Businesses bullish on economy


Parts of the nation might be caught in a lingering recession, but Anne Arundel County has avoided the worst of it, business leaders said yesterday.

Despite some bankruptcies and future county layoffs, retailers, banks, hotels and new housing developments are mostly stable and thriving, said participants in an Anne Arundel Trade Council round table. The group met to dispel notions that national and regional "gloom and doom" apply to the county.

"What happens in Anne Arundel County is not what's happening in Baltimore city or Washington," said Robert Kaufman, chairman of the round-table discussion.

But as the group met at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront Hotel, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported that optimism about the economy has risen to its highest level in two years -- based on business executives' views of sales and employment prospects.

While stopping short of calling Anne Arundel recession-proof, the panel attributed economic health during a recession to the lure of historic Annapolis, the waterfront and the U.S. Naval Academy, proximity to an international airport and the existence of bedroom communities to two cities.

Ed Ladd, manager of Marley Station Mall, pointed to retail additions over the past few years, including Leedmark, Syms, Home Depot and the Sports Authority, as well as two expected Walmart stores and the two largest malls' proposed expansions.

The travel industry's past year has been "acceptable to outstanding," said Cory Bonney, sales director for Annapolis Marriott Waterfront Hotel. "A couple of hotels have showed gains over 1990."

Annapolis hotels have seen more vacationers and fewer business travelers, while hotels near Baltimore-Washington International Airport have seen the opposite.

At historic sites, water attractions and restaurants, "people are spending as much money as they ever have, but they're being more demanding," Bonney said.

Even in the hard-hit marine industry, used boat sales and boat slip rentals have picked up, said Mitch Nathanson, president of Annapolis-based Coastal Group, a marina owner and operator.

New home sales have risen for two years because new West County communities have met market demand, said Randy L. Raudabaugh, Maryland manager of Friendswood Development Co.

For the past six months, more companies have applied for loans to expand or start new real estate ventures, said Rick Morgan, president of Annapolis National Bank. Also during that time, more companies have leased retail or office space to start, move or expand businesses, said Lynn Dulin, a commercial investment specialist for Champion Realty, Inc.

"There are vacancies on Main Street [in Annapolis], but people are fighting over the locations," Dulin said.

Annapolis attorney Edward O. Wayson said the recession ended in December when "the cost of funds for lending institutions became cheaper than the rate of inflation," and his development and zoning cases picked up.

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