ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT leaders for Annapolis and Anne Arundel County nearly fell out of their chairs last week when the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s corporate headquarters dropped into their laps like manna from heaven. BGE -- soon to be the nation's ninth-largest utility after a merger with the Potomac Electric Power Co. -- intends to move its headquarters from Baltimore to the Annapolis area by 1997.
Economic development officials, who spend months trying to woo corporations with a fraction of the impact that the BGE-Potomac deal represents, are not exaggerating when they say the significance of this move goes far beyond the 200 or so managerial jobs it will bring. While Baltimore City justifably laments the loss of another corporate headquarters, in Anne Arundel County there is no downside to this news.
Anne Arundel County needs private industry to replace government as the cornerstone of its economy, and a big utility is a very desirable private industry to get.
First, it's a clean industry; a headquarters doesn't pump smoke into the sky or pollution into the bay. Second, like many utilities, it makes a practice of supporting cultural and community activities. Third, the white-collar managers who will work at the headquarters will be well-paid -- which means they will spend money at restaurants, clothing stores and other businesses, generating new jobs in other areas. And perhaps most important, having a mega-utility in the Annapolis area heightens its profile, altering its image in a positive way. Annapolis has long been associated with tourism and government, but it has not been luring big corporations. Having a business as significant as BGE announce it wants to move there automatically makes the area more attractive to other firms.
It would be a mistake, of course, to think of BGE's impending relocation as an antidote for the county's business woes -- the continuing shrinkage at Westinghouse Electric Co. in Linthicum, where 1,000 workers soon will be laid off, and the upcoming closure of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Annapolis. Yet the continuing demise of defense-related industries is precisely why this news is so important. It's a huge step toward rebuilding Anne Arundel's economy on more solid ground.