Baker shifts attention away from slots

With Prince George’s County clergy pressuring county officials to oppose slot machines at recently reopened Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) will focus this week on other types of economic development.

Baker, who opposed slots when he was a state legislator, has declined to join the anti-slots crowd this time around, and has asked the County Council to tamp down its opposition to the gambling machines. A bill pending at the council, introduced by Council member Eric Olson (D-College Park) would use county zoning law to prohibit slots at the track. Track owner Penn National Gaming said slots are crucial to its efforts to revive the track.

While trying to keep a low profile on the slots issue, Baker has made clear that he hopes to cast a wide net and lure many types of businesses to the county as he seeks to bolster its tax base and create jobs. He recently announced the relocation of Coastal International Security from Virginia to a site near Andrews Air Force base. The company expects to bring about 50 jobs and create at least 15 new positions, while also hoping to expand.

Gwen S. McCall, recently approved as president of the Prince George’s Economic Development Corp., has worked with Baker to set up a field trip and bus tour beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday to visit sites in the county that they believe are ripe for new businesses.

McCall, in a recent interview, said the $7 million economic development agency, is revamping its approach to attracting and keeping businesses in the county by setting up what amount to internal SWAT teams to help businesses navigate the county bureaucracy. A special target, she said, is the sometimes cumbersome permitting process that requires applicants to appear at several different county agencies for various permits.

“Whatever their issues are, we want to make sure companies know that someone cares,” said McCall, who is attempting an internal reorganization to ensure that businesses can turn to the agency for what amounts to one stop-shopping.

“We are the ambassadors,” she said. “We are the ombudsmen for the business community.”

Pradeep Ganguly, formerly chief economist for Maryland’s Department of Business and Economic Development, and a former official in the Prince George’s environment department, is now senior vice president of the Prince George’s Economic Development Corp. He said the agency believes it can “significantly” reduce the time it takes for businesses to get permits from the county.

“That is money,” he said.

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