"Networking" is one of those contemporary code words, a politically correct and amplified concept that replaces what used to be known as the "old boys' network."
The ultimate network here is Leadership Howard County, a program initiated in 1985 by the local Chamber of Commerce.
During the past eight years, it has graduated 260 people, 238 of whom still live in the county and currently serve on no fewer than 140 boards, commissions and task forces that are overseeing crucial institutions, preparing recommendations or setting public policy.
"We see ourselves as much more than a 10-month development program," says Executive Director Shirley Burrill. "Leadership Howard County is a life-long opportunity."
Thirty-eight emerging leaders are in the current training class, which helps prepare them for responsibility in the community.
Despite a substantial price tag -- $2,300 per participant -- the program has never lacked applicants. In fact, it is quite competitive. Or, as Ms. Burrill puts it, "As people find out what the program offers, it becomes a desirable part of growth."
"We focus on the state of the county -- issues, problems and resources," Ms. Burrill explained. "Participants hold high-level positions of responsibility in the county and can make things happen. They have a record of community service and are willing to serve the county in the future."
More than 300 similar Leadership programs operate throughout the United States.
A program sponsored by the Greater Baltimore Committee is celebrating its 10th anniversary today; a new statewide program is graduating its first class Dec. 1. Other Leadership programs operate in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Frederick, Harford, Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Hagerstown.
Community service is the cornerstone of all these programs. Howard's consists of day-long seminars held monthly on health care, economic development, education, the arts and the media, government, criminal justice and human services. Graduates are then expected to translate what they learn to service in the community.
Howard needs vigorous new leaders. The Leadership program constitutes a pipeline that can supply them.