Officials mull most lucrative regional name D.C.-Baltimore or Baltimore-D.C.?

THE BALTIMORE SUN

What's in a name?

Romeo & Juliet

Act II, Scene 2

The answer, dear Juliet, is money.

Washington-Baltimore does, indeed, sound sweeter than Baltimore-Washington. At least, that's what members of the County Council say.

Howard County and the rest of the Baltimore area are expected to join Washington and parts of Virginia and West Virginia for statistical purposes later this year. The move would turn No. 8 Washington and No. 18 Baltimore into the fourth-largest market in the nation behind New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Virtually everyone agrees this is a good idea.

"When large corporations and international companies make decisions about a region, they want it to be in the top five," says Robert E. Griffiths, director of metropolitan development for the Washington Council of Governments.

The big question is: What should the new market be called?

The federal government plans to give Baltimore top billing in the new market unless persuaded otherwise.

The County Council hopes to persuade the federal government other wise.

The council wants the new consolidated statistical market, geographically centered in Savage, to be called the Washington-Baltimore market, believing the ears of potential foreign investors will perk up more quickly when they hear Washington.

Many foreign investors don't even know where Baltimore is, says County Council Chairman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, who makes his living promoting the port of Baltimore.

But they do know Washington. Changing the name of Friendship Airport to Baltimore-Washington International helped increase business at the airport, he says, because it indicated to commercial haulers that the airport is close to Washington.

Leading with Washington in the naming of the consolidated metropolitan statistical area could have a similar effect here, Mr. Farragut believes.

"It is something [foreign] businesses look at," he says. "It does not have a lot of domestic applications, but it provides leverage as a marketing tool."

"It should be obvious from a marketing standpoint," says Robert T. Grow, executive director of the Washington-Baltimore Regional Association. "Literally every day you see something about Washington in the newspaper or on television. It only makes sense to make use of that exposure.

"With Washington, you have instant geographical identification," Mr. Grow says. "If you're sitting in London with a measuring stick, you might think Baltimore and Washington are a thousand miles apart."

County Executive Charles I. Ecker agrees that having a Washington-Baltimore consolidated statistical area would be good for marketing the county. But he thinks the name should remain Baltimore-Washington "for continuity in references to the region."

"We have been pushed and pulled in two directions," Mr. Ecker says. "It would be good to be one region," regardless of what it is called.

Nick Loen, one of the county's top real estate salesmen, has been watching that pushing and pulling for 17 years.

"Fifteen years ago, the county was clearly more oriented toward Washington," he said. "Five years ago, it was almost equal. Now, it's pretty close and may be leaning toward Baltimore.

"If you come from northern New Jersey like I do, then it's probably true that Washington comes first. Here, it's Baltimore-Washington International, Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Baltimore-Washington corridor. People are going to have a tough time changing."

One of the things most people don't want to change is the county's statistical affiliation with the Baltimore area subgroup. Each consolidated metropolitan statistical area is comprised of two or more subgroups that keep separate sets of statistics unique to their region.

Howard County has a choice. It can join Washington, or it can stay with Baltimore.

"We belong with Baltimore," says Earl Armiger, former president of the local Chamber of Commerce. "I can't say that strongly enough. Commuting patterns notwithstanding, our history, politics, economics, and social and cultural activities are oriented toward Baltimore. We are a major player. We are an insignificant player when lumped in with Washington."

"Small fish in a big pond and big fish in a little pond is not a good argument to get into," says County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd. "We have to look to the benefits. It could be beneficial long term" to be linked to Washington.

According to findings in the 1990 census, Howard County does, indeed, seem more attuned to Washington than to Baltimore.

The median household income in Howard County is $54,348 -- $7,464 more than $46,884 median of a Washington-area household and $17,798 more than the Baltimore region median of $36,550.

Howard County is also closer to Washington than Baltimore in the percentage of high school and college graduates.

More than 91 percent of county residents 25 and older are high school graduates, compared to an 85 percent figure for the Washington area, and 76 percent for the Baltimore area. Nearly half -- 47 percent -- of county adult residents have graduated from college, compared to slightly less than 40 percent in the Washington area, and 21 percent for the Baltimore area.

Putting the county in a Washington subgroup would emphasize the strong economic and geographic influences of Washington's suburbs and could have a positive effect on the county's future economic growth, Mr. Ecker says.

Despite Howard County's high level of affluence, 5,784 county residents -- 3 percent of the total county population in the 1990 census -- were living below the federal poverty level.

Also, one fourth of the county's renters were spending more than 35 percent of their income on housing. By contrast, only a tenth of county homeowners were spending that much percentage-wise on mortgages. The median county rent was $680 a month, according to the 1990 census. The median monthly mortgage payment was $1,186.

Councilman Farragut also sees advantages in a Washington subgroup. "We are more and more focused toward Washington, and are experiencing growth and prosperity from Washington-area jobs," Mr. Farragut says.

If Howard County were included in the Washington subgroup, a higher median income for that subgroup could mean that a greater number of county residents would be eligible for federal housing programs since the cutoff level would rise, Mr. Ecker says.

Despite those potential gains, Ecker's preference is to stay with the Baltimore subgroup. The link with Baltimore would "maintain a continuity of historic data bases" and ensure that the county is affected by only one state government.

"Issues affecting a relatively small county like Howard would maintain their regional relevance," he says.

Councilman Gray also leans toward keeping the county in the Baltimore subgroup.

"Business here tends to gravitate toward Baltimore," he says. Mr. Gray notes, for example, that the county's investment bankers and bond counsel are Baltimore-based.

Mr. Gray wants the county to look at federal aid formulas before making a decision. The county may do better in terms of housing programs by joining Washington, but federal aid for schools and the poor might be greater in the Baltimore region.

Regardless of which statistical subgroup the county chooses, joining with both Baltimore and Washington in a larger consolidated market will give the county a considerable boost, Mr. Farragut says. "We'll be the the wealthiest, fastest-growing region in the country," he says.

Linking Baltimore and Howard County with Washington means "a bigger piece of the pie for everyone in the consolidated area," says Mr. Griffiths of the Washington Council of Governments.

"If you're sitting in Bonn or London or Tokyo, you don't ask, 'Do I go to Howard County?' You ask, 'Do I go to Washington, Dallas-Fort Worth, New York, or San Francisco?' Once the firms are attracted to the area, you ask where in that area you want to locate.

"A Washington-Baltimore market could offer both [the National Institutes of Health] and Johns Hopkins. We would be one big happy family."

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