Carroll officials are elated -- check that, happy -- that Marada Industries Inc. wants to expand its auto parts manufacturing operation in the Carroll County Air Business Park. The expansion will be smaller than officials had hoped for, and offers another example of why Carroll County must sustain a strong economic development effort.
In preliminary discussions with the county beginning two years ago, Marada's executives indicated they were interested in possibly investing as much as $16 million in a larger plant and adding 250 jobs to its local payroll.
Instead of building a facility twice the size of Marada's two existing plants, the company will construct a 40,000-square-foot building in Westminster that will cost $2 million, a fraction of the original plan. The number of workers added to the payroll will range, the company said, between 100 and 150 -- substantial, but less than the 250 discussed two years ago.
Through most of these negotiations, Carroll did not have a full-time economic development director. We will never know if the lack of such a director caused the company to rethink its investment plans. A full-time director might have been able to allay concerns, expedite negotiations and leave Marada with the impression that the county was sincerely interested in its expansion. Instead, the company had to deal with an ad hoc economic development team that was stretched thin and could not be totally attentive.
Another large question mark is the lack of a rail line to the business park. The county would have been in a much better bargaining position had a proposed 2.5-mile rail spur been in place. The best the county could do for Marada was to promise that it would raise the money -- estimated at $6 million to $7 million -- to construct the rail line. Considering the general hostility toward government spending and other urgent demands on the county budget, Marada executives may have decided the county could not accommodate it in a timely manner.
Attracting business and commercial development demands much more attention than Carroll has accorded it. Marada's expansion is welcome news, but Carroll is a long way from having the strong commercial and industrial tax base required to finance its growing needs.