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Balto. Co. chamber seeks regional business links


Echoing the latest theme in economic development, the chairwoman of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce called yesterday for a regional approach to business.

"Business leaders must insist on forging municipal partnerships," Terry M. Rubenstein said at the annual meeting of the county's largest chamber of commerce.

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III also has talked about the need for greater regional cooperation. And he chose an economic development director with experience in both Baltimore County and the city.

Mrs. Rubenstein said local governments should forge a public-private partnership to market the Baltimore area as a distribution center. "Not only do we have a fabulous port but we have the location to make this region a major distribution hub for the whole East Coast."

She called for an initiative similar to one begun recently in Virginia's Hampton Roads area, where localities with a history of squabbling are working together to promote the port.

Such bitter disputes haven't been common in the Baltimore area, but the localities have tended to ignore each other, Mrs. Rubenstein said. Unless Baltimore and the surrounding counties learn to cooperate, the region could lose out on attracting new business, she said.

"We can't be so myopic," she said.

Given the area's access to the port, Interstate 95 and rail lines, the region is appealing as a distribution center, she said. Already, Harford County has attracted such centers.

Yesterday's meeting provided the first chance for members to hear from the chamber's new president, Linda Cotton, who acknowledged that county businesses face change as manufacturing declines and the population ages.

She promised to make the chamber more relevant to businesses whether "you operate in the den of your home or the top story of a Hunt Valley office building."

Stephen A. Geppi, owner of Timonium-based Diamond Comic Distributors Inc. and Baltimore magazine, received a chamber award for the county's outstanding business owner.

Mr. Geppi, who left school when he was 13 to support his mother, began collecting comic books as a boy. In 1974, he quit his job with the U.S. Postal Service to turn his hobby into a business. He opened a comic book store on Edmondson Avenue and has turned his company into the world's largest distributor of English-language comics.

In 1993, he became a co-owner of the Baltimore Orioles and last year acquired the magazine.

"His is a great story of entrepreneurship and hard work," said county Economic Development Director Robert L. Hannon.

Mr. Geppi said he owes his success in part to the county's positive business environment. "I love Baltimore."

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