Despite a stubborn, long economic downturn, business is robust at the Forest Hill Industrial Airpark.
Commuters along East Jarrettsville Road between Forest Hill and Hickory can see many new structures that have been built in the past six years. Hundreds of workers now report daily to the nearly 30 businesses that have opened along the airstrip nestled between Friends Park and Commerce Road.
The person responsible for the surge in economic activity is J. Robert "Bob" Martin, owner of a construction company who bought the site in 1987.
Mr. Martin said that buying the site fulfilled a business dream he had had for quite a while. It satisfied his desire to expand his Forest Hill Construction Co., which had emphasized residential projects, into commercial development. The company has been involved in construction, land development and design business throughout Harford County for 25 years.
Mr. Martin says that developing the site has given Forest Hill Construction a chance to work with owners of small- to moderate-size businesses who are looking for a turnkey operation, custom-built on a lot.
Development of the site's original 47 acres is nearly complete. It now contains 26 businesses, 22 of them built in the past six years. Most of the buildings line Industry Lane, which runs parallel to the 2,600-foot runway.
Phase Two of the project, which includes about 30 one-acre lots, has just opened. Two companies, Ridge Sheet Metal and Aerial Aircraft and Truck Refinishing, have taken options to build.
Buying the site also allowed Mr. Martin to indulge his love of flying.
A pilot since 1973, he owns two planes -- a six-seat Baron and a seven-seat Cheyenne. Both planes are kept in a private hangar on the ground floor of the company's business office, which resembles a control tower when viewed from the airstrip.
"We are basically a family operation and easily relate to the needs of our customers," said Mr. Martin, 53, a Harford County native.
During construction, Mr. Martin's brother Joe is foreman and is helped by Cecil Morris, who has been with the company 24 years.
Through 3M Design, a division headed by Mr. Martin's wife, Mari, the company provides interior services from carpeting to wallpaper and pictures. Custom landscaping is provided by MG Enterprises, a company owned by son-in-law Mike Greene. Daughter Julie, of Sentinel Title of Bel Air, provides real estate settlement services, while son Bob, a commercial pilot, is available for technical consultation. Coordination of all the services falls to Jay Vaught, Mr. Martin's uncle.
Some of the countywide projects carrying the company label are the headquarters of the Forest Hill State Bank, its Whiteford branch, the band shell in Bel Air, and additions to the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Department, Hidden Brook and Joppa Hall at Harford Community College. It also built the residential communities of Martindale and Pinehurst in the 1970s and 1980s.