Is This Any Way to Run an Air Park?


Carroll County's commissioners and economic development officials are right to question the appropriateness of locating an automobile emissions testing station at Westminster's Air Business Center. The problem, however, is that the project may be too far along to stop.

When the Air Business Center was conceived in 1963, officials envisioned it as the county's foremost industrial campus -- one that could attract high-profile manufacturing and industrial concerns employing scores of residents. The facility didn't get off the drawing board until 1981. And, although it has lured Marada Industries, which keeps growing and adding jobs, finding other desirable tenants has been difficult.

Instead of being devoted strictly to manufacturing, the park, adjacent to Carroll County Regional Airport, has evolved to include a number of retail-oriented businesses. This mixing of industrial and retail concerns has bothered a number of prospects who considered locating there, officials say. These officials now fear that an emissions testing station at the park will further impede efforts to attract industrial companies. They argue that since the county has invested several million dollars in building infrastructure for the Air Business Center, it is in the county's interest to attract businesses that generate taxes and high-paying jobs.

The emissions testing center, which Tennessee-based Marta Technologies Inc. will operate, will generate but a half-dozen jobs. And because the property will be state-owned, it won't pay county taxes.

Development officials correctly point out that an emissions testing center isn't the best use of these two acres of prime industrial land. They also point out that the 200 cars will further congest Routes 97 and 140 in Westminster, already a bottleneck. Too, they worry that mixing truck and automobile traffic within the park will alienate existing tenants.

Why county officials found out about the plans for this state-affiliated testing station so late in the process remains a mystery. Considering the importance of the Air Business Center in the county's economic development strategy, county officials should have known about this earlier. Changes in the process need to be made so this embarrassing situation is not repeated.

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