While the pending loss of the Ryland Group Inc.'s headquarters to California represents a tremendous psychological blow, the corporate drain is being mitigated by other businesses that are flocking to Howard County, bringing with them jobs and furthering the county's economic momentum.
To that end, Howard County economic development officials are expected to announce this morning that a division of Orbital Sciences Corp. will consolidate more than 200 jobs from Germantown and Linthicum to a new location in Columbia.
"It's central to our existing locations, it's convenient to BWI airport and other amenities, and it's very business-friendly," said Dave Mathisen, an Orbital vice president and general manager. "They provided little things, like discounts to golf, health clubs and other amenities, that really helped sell me on it."
Orbital, a vehicle fleet manager and satellite manufacturer based in Dulles, Va., that expects to generate $900 million in revenue this year, will occupy its new building in June.
Orbital's decision to lease 62,000 square feet for its fleet division in a two-story project being built by Nottingham Properties Inc. isn't the only recent deal bringing jobs to Howard.
This month, Century Business Services Inc. elected to lease space in a Columbia building being developed by a joint venture between Creaney & Smith Inc. and GE Capital Corp.
"This will be a prototype facility that they hope to replicate around the country," said Alan Grabush, a Ryan Commercial Real Estate Services agent who represents Creaney & Smith. "Columbia has arteries to Baltimore and D.C. so they can draw clients from both markets, and they get to be near high-profile corporate neighbors."
Century Business, a publicly traded financial adviser and accounting firm begun by businessman and sports mogul H. Wayne Huizenga, will consolidate as many as 125 jobs in February to 7160 Columbia Gateway Drive from California, Ellicott City and Columbia.
"Why are companies still looking to Columbia? Because Columbia has reached a critical mass. Companies want to be there because it has a central location and because their competition is there," said Chuck Breitenother, a vice president of commercial real estate brokerage firm CB Richard Ellis Inc. who represented Orbital in its transaction.
"Columbia remains a good central location, it's a good corporate address, and growth has occurred in part because developers were able to deliver quality space," Breitenother added.
In both leases, the companies will spend more than $9 million each to occupy space in Columbia for the next decade.
Orbital and Century are just two of the companies Columbia has attracted in the past year, including the high-profile corporate headquarters of Magellan Health Services Inc. from Atlanta and W. R. Grace & Co.
Grace, the chemical giant that has had its world research center outside Columbia for more than a decade, announced in January plans to relocate its headquarters there from Florida.
Last year, a dozen companies established headquarters in Howard County, according to county economic development officials.
"Birds of a feather flock together," said Richard Story, the county's economic development chief. "Once there's a critical mass, it makes it easier to make sales, because more and more companies are contributing to the momentum."
Story credits the region's solid economy, Howard County's location and its "fast track" permitting system with contributing to its success.
As in other jurisdictions, existing businesses in the county do most of the heavy lifting, though, generating 80 percent of Howard's annual job growth, Story said.
For Nottingham, the Orbital lease is intended to be the start of additional development. In all, the developer plans to construct three buildings totaling 150,000 square feet on 12 acres.
"Their decision proves that we are increasingly meeting the high-tech industry's demand for available resources such as quality office space and prime research and development locations," Howard County Executive James N. Robey said.