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County's Decision Far From Olympian

When it comes to capitalizing on economic development opportunities, Carroll County's commissioners can be counted on to fumble them.

It should not come as much of a surprise that Carroll's commissioners declined to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to host the U.S. Olympic cycling trials.

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The county was among five finalists for these races, which will determine a few of the cyclists who will represent the United States in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Maryland Sports Group Inc., a local non-profit group organized to bring sporting events to Maryland, had assembled a proposal for the U.S. Cycling Federation. It had raised the bulk of $175,000 in financial commitments from private and state sources. Maryland Sports offered Carroll as the venue for the road racing event and needed the county's agreement to pay for extra police, course monitors, sanitation and traffic control. The costs were estimated at $36,000.

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Presented with an incredible opportunity to promote the county, the commissioners punted. Where other people see possibilities, Carroll's commissioners see problems.

To them, the three-to-four day event was nothing more than a costly traffic jam. They failed to see that for a brief window of time, Carroll would have been the bicycling mecca of America. News organizations from ESPN to the New York Times would have sent reporters to cover the event. Individuals and teams from all over the country would have converged on the county. People from companies that manufacture, import and sell bicycles, cycling clothing and paraphernalia would also have shown up to observe the races and promote products.

To receive this type of exposure using traditional advertising and promotion avenues, the county would have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. Measured in those terms, the projected costs were a bargain.

There would have been other benefits as well.

The racers and their support personnel would have needed housing and food. So would thousands of spectators who would have come to watch the races.

Carroll's hospitality industry might not have been able to accommodate the participants and spectators, but local motels and restaurants would have experienced a big jump in business. Gas stations, convenience and clothing stores also would have seen more traffic. One can only guess at how much more income would have been generated.

Increasing incomes wouldn't have been the only benefits to the community.

Bicycling may not have the following of baseball, basketball, football, golf or tennis, but the sport has a growing and devoted group of American fans.

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Giving Carroll residents the opportunity to see world-class competition would have been worth the $36,000 alone. Relatively few Carroll residents will be able to afford to go to Atlanta to see Olympic events. Here was an unprecedented chance for the residents to see Olympic-caliber athletes -- free.

Who knows how many children in Carroll might have been inspired by observing the road races? Who knows if another Greg LeMond, America's best-known cyclist and three-time Tour France winner, is growing up in Carroll?

The county could have created a week of festivities -- parades, concerts, etc. -- that would have lifted the community's spirit. To understand the potential of this event, all the commissioners had to do was ponder the benefits Baltimore derived from being the site of the U.S. gymnastics trials three years ago.

If the commissioners couldn't remember that event, they should have been able to recall the excitement of the following year when Baltimore was the site of baseball's All-Star game.

City hotels and restaurants did land-office business for a week before the game. Special baseball exhibitions filled the Baltimore Convention Center and the old Camden Yards train station. For weeks, downtown Baltimore was full of people having a good time.

Apparently, the commissioners didn't, or didn't care to, remember those events. They could only envision problems and costs. Money may be tight, but in a budget of more than $160 million, there was money to cover this minimal expense.

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County leaders' penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to public policy will defeat itself in the long run. Any businessman knows to get a return, you must make an investment.

Time and time again, Carroll's commissioners have refused to make the necessary investments in promotion and economic development. The result is a county that doesn't have a large commercial and industrial tax base to support the services the county requires.

Given the commissioners' collective shortsightedness on this subject, you can bet that Carroll will continue to pass up opportunities that would enhance the county's economic base as well as its quality of life.

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.



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