Speaking to business leaders in Anne Arundel County's job-rich BWI area yesterday, Janet S. Owens touched all the themes important to the movers and shakers and managed to weave into the talk her top-priority issue: improving education.
Without making a promise more concrete than returning a distinctive colored glass sculpture of a crab to display at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the new county executive impressed many of those attending the BWI Business Partnership's monthly breakfast.
In her first address since her inauguration Sunday, Owens kept her remarks brief while winning points with business leaders for knowing the topics they care about: changing the area's image from a disjointed industrial park to a world-class technology corridor; maintaining and expanding the number of skilled jobs even as downsizing looms at the National Security Agency, one of the area's biggest employers; and streamlining the county's permit process.
"She hit some good hot-button issues," said Neil M. Shpritz, executive director of the BWI Business Partnership.
But she didn't leave out the issue on which she campaigned hard to upset predecessor John G. Gary in November -- schools.
"Education should be a business obligation, too," she said, reading from a statement she wrote the night before. Owens needs the help of businesses, which want to boast about local schools to attract workers, in her effort to build a better county school system, she said.
"We are concerned with education from the standpoint of the work force, because it's becoming increasingly difficult to find skilled workers," said Theodore E. Mathison, executive director of the Maryland Aviation Administration, which runs BWI. "It's intertwined. You can't have a viable economy if your people don't have the skills."
Most of Owens' 10-minute talk stayed close to the issues at the heart of the BWI region.
She said she supported the partnership's plans to add signs, landscaping and other extras to make the area more attractive and easy to navigate, advocating county planning guidelines for landscaping, for example.
Owens also offered support for streamlining the county permit process to make development easier, but held to her standard of DTC "growth we can live with."
Without stating how, she said the county should work to attract national chain restaurants while protecting local establishments. Under state law, a business in the county can have only one liquor license, discouraging some restaurants from opening in more than one location.
Owens said she agreed to speak to the 200 business people so early in her term "because it's the airport and it is the economic engine of the county."
The region is home to 150,000 jobs, with NSA and Northrop Grumman among major employers. The number of passengers traveling through the airport increased from 14.1 million last year to an expected 14.7 million this year, and the vacancy rate in buildings is a healthy 5.1 percent.
Owens also promised to fulfill what she called her only campaign promise: to return a 10-foot-long, 5-foot-tall colored glass sculpture of a blue crab to the airport.
The creation of Jackie and John Douglass of Shady Side, the crab was exhibited at the airport for 12 years before the county moved it into storage three years ago. The county helped pay for the sculpture during the administration of former County Executive O. James Lighthizer.
"My one commitment was to bring back the crab," Owens said. "I thought it was a symbol of Maryland and of Anne Arundel County."
She did not commit to spending county money on the piece, which has cracked and grown dirty over the years.
Pub Date: 12/11/98