Nine months after he entered office, County Executive Rushern Baker is still pushing the Prince George’s County Council to create a $50
million economic development incentive fund to subsidize deals for federal agency leases and provide capital to small businesses and other employers.
This time around though, Baker has some new ammunition — namely the county’s failure to attract a nearly 1 million-square-foot lease for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Using the HHS loss, Baker’s economic development team has renewed its pitch to the county council. Wednesday afternoon at a county council hearing, David Iannucci, an old hand in Maryland politics and economic development going back to the days of Gov. William Donald Schaeffer, argued that given the HHS episode, Prince George’s needed to be even more nimble and aggressive in issuing subsidies than Montgomery County if it is to win major lease deals.
Although acknowledging that most of the money is likely to go to small businesses via five-to-seven year loans, Iannucci said that when it comes to pursuing larger competitive deals, “If we’re just the same as Montgomery County, that’s just not going to be good enough right now.”
Reaction from council members was mixed, despite Baker’s team adding more council involvement to the bill by proposing an independent committee to review funding applications and allowing council approval for grants of $250,000 or more.
“I think it takes us completely out of the approval process,” said Council member Obie Patterson of the bill, opposing it. Council member Andrea Harrison supported the bill but said she worried about the county relying too heavily on it. “I don’t think we need to sell ourselves short by giving up too much,” she said.
But Council member Will Campos, whose district includes one of the losing HHS sites, was still feeling that loss, saying it was “unbelievable and ridiculous” Prince George’s didn’t win.
“We should not have lost that deal, we really shouldn’t have,” he said.
The bill passed committee, 4-1.