Baker: Perceptions about Prince George’s change as county pursues development

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, in a speech Wednesday to local business leaders, said the county is shedding its image as a place plagued by high crime and bad schools.

The Prince George’s County “that the region has been used to isn’t the same Prince George’s County anymore,” Baker told the group gathered in Mitchellville for the county’s executive annual State of the County address.

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post) - Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III .

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“Folks are taking notice, and big projects are being considered for this county,” he said, according to his prepared remarks, which were released by his office.

Speaking at the Country Club at Woodmore, Baker (D) laid out the county’s efforts to secure major economic development projects, most notably in the regional competition for the new FBI headquarters.

The Baker administration has been aggressively courting the FBI, which is planning to leave its headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue NW in the District. Prince George’s has also lined up support from state leaders and the endorsement of all members of the Maryland congressional delegation.

Altogether, Baker said, the county is working on projects valued at about $4 billion, including plans for a high-end casino. The casino, projected to open in 2016, is expected to cost $850 million and add thousands of jobs.

This fall, an outlet shopping center is scheduled to open at National Harbor and a Whole Foods Market is in the works for Riverdale Park.

“This volume of incoming development is unprecedented in our modern history,” Baker said, according to his prepared remarks. “More importantly, it will mean jobs and revenue. . . . And it also shows that our standing in the state and the Washington metropolitan area is improving.”

After taking office in 2010, Baker lobbied the County Council to establish an economic development fund, and Baker said Wednesday that the $50 million fund has been instrumental in creating or retaining nearly 1,000 jobs during the past year.

In interviews after Baker’s speech, business leaders cheered some of his efforts, among them the recent creation of the Department of Permitting, Inspection and Enforcement, which will consolidate a host of functions.

“It is still a work in progress, but there has certainly been some progress made in making that process of opening a business in this county a little bit easier for people,” said Kelly L. Pierce, executive director of the Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce. “For a long time, that did hold back some economic development in the county.”

Business leaders also praised Baker’s emphasis on improving public safety and education. This month, the Maryland General Assembly granted Baker the authority to appoint the county schools chief.

“We are optimistic because public safety and education are the two major factors that impact businesses in our county and economic development,” said M.H. Jim Estepp, president and chief executive of the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable, an alliance of chief executives.

Estepp said Baker’s enthusiasm has rallied the business community to work with the county, especially in its efforts to provide summer jobs for young people, reduce crime and improve the schools.

“I think given that he has been in office for two years, he has made a tremendous amount of progress,” Estepp said.

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