Blueprint for growth proposed


Baltimore County's efforts to attract and keep businesses and jobs should be led by a new, nonprofit corporation instead of TC government agency, according to a report commissioned by the county executive.

The report calls for a vigorous public-private effort, a strong new marketing campaign and a pro-business make-over for county government.

The report, prepared by a 23-member task force and released yesterday, is expected to be an economic blueprint for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III.

The executive told the group that its work would not be ignored. "I want to make sure we don't have groups that make recommendations and it goes on the shelf," he said.

Soon after Robert L. Hannon comes to work June 1 as the county's new Economic Development director, he said, the conversion process will begin.

The report calls for replacement of the county's economic development office with a new public-private corporation run by a board of directors appointed by the county executive.

Terry Rubenstein, president of county Chamber of Commerce, hailed the report as a "terrific blueprint."

"It encompasses all the issues that business people have been talking about," she said. That means changing county government to a pro-business mind-set and streamlining government bureaucracies to be "user-friendly."

But at a meeting yesterday, Mr. Ruppersberger cautioned that "We have to keep our integrity, too, our environmental integrity." He said early community involvement, and simple but fair and fast action by county agencies, will benefit both communities and the county's business climate.

Ms. Rubenstein said a key element in the plan must be a well-financed public relations effort so that people know what the county can offer to companies and individuals who might move there.

James Ronald DeJuliis, a task force member and business manager for Local 37 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, AFL-CIO, said, "I'm pretty enthused about it. If it attracts business, the opportunity for labor is there."

Mr. Ruppersberger has made it clear that the county government's hopes for resurgence hinge on economic development because of unrelenting political pressure against local tax increases and a nearly flat growth in revenue.

The executive says he needs more money to rebuild the county's older neighborhoods and make them attractive again to young families. Only by keeping more young, middle-class families and their attendant income tax revenue from heading to the outer suburbs and southern Pennsylvania can the county stop its decline, he said.

The county's economic decline was charted in a report released last fall by the Regional Economic Studies Program at the University of Baltimore. Among its findings:

* While the county's overall population has increased slowly over the last 13 years, its working-age population has declined, leaving fewer income-producing people.

* Since 1984, county manufacturing jobs have disappeared at a rate of 5.7 percent per year, compared to a 3.7 percent statewide decline.

* Wages in the county were 1.5 percent higher than the state average in 1982, but by 1993 real wages were 4.1 percent below the statewide average.

Baltimore County's efforts to stem the trend over the last four years were hampered by early turnover and turmoil on the Economic Development Commission during the administration of Roger B. Hayden, who was ousted by Mr. Ruppersberger in November.

Meanwhile, ambitious county plans to develop a 400-acre industrial park on former Bethlehem Steel land at Sparrows Point have floundered since it was proposed in 1987.

The report suggests a simple structure for an agency to renew the development effort. It suggests creating a new Economic Development Corporation, anchored by the county's existing $1 million economic development budget.

The new agency, however, would be run by a 21-member board of directors that includes a five-member executive board, all appointed by the county executive.

And although Mr. Ruppersberger recently named Mr. Hannon as director of the economic development agency, future directors would be chosen by the executive board.

Newton B. Fowler III, the task force chairman, said the county council would have to approve bills to create the corporation and change old references in the county code before the plan could get under way.

The report set no specific goal for fund-raising, but Mr. Fowler said the first order of business should be raising money for projects of interest to specific businesses.

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