Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist yesterday made his first attempts at turning around the county's gloomy economic picture and anti-business reputation by proposing a 10-point program for economic development.
Gilchrist's plan closely followed the recommendations of a report issued last month by the county Economic Development Advisory Board that warned Montgomery County development needed immediate help.
Many of Gilchrist's suggestions were catch up efforts to activities in other Washington-area counties that already are courting businesses.
"We haven't done enough to compete with other counties," Gilchrist told reporters after his luncheon address before a group of about 130 county business people.
To reverse the county's stagnant economic outlook Gilchrist proposed adding $60,000 to the budget to advertise and market the county's business opportunities. Thid would be similar to efforts already underway in Fairfax County which this week bought four pages of advertising in a national newspaper and regularly distributes glossy pamphlets describing its attributes.
Neighboring Prince Georges County also has embarked on a campaign in its economic development marketing division to attract more business.
Gilchrist also said he will recommend shuffling county personnel to at least double the sizt of the county's five-person economic development staff and suggested that the Office of Economic Development become a department which will report directly to the county's chief administrative officer and the county executive.
Also following the lead of other area counties Gilchrist said he will push for an economic development corporation which he said would be similar to the Greater Baltimore Committee. This privately staffed corporation would work with the county Office of Economic Development to upgrade businessmen's participation in planning the county's growth.
The plan also calls for modernizing Silver Spring's largely post-World War II business district by increasing money budgeted for its revitallization from $375,000 to $645,000. Gilchrist also said he is recommending an additional $2.9 million in capital imporvements in the suburb during the next three years.
Most of the revitalization will be cosmetic, in the form of refurbishing buildings, adding trees, benches and a more pleasant atmosphere, according to James W. Tavel of the Silver Spring Department Council.
Tavel said that Silver Spring's two main business corridors, Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue, don't "give an image or character to the business district. When you drive down those streets, they give you your impression of Silver Spring -- gray."
The suburb's business people had expected Silver Spring's economy to pick up after the Metro subway line opened a year ago, but it hasn't yet improved, Tavel said.
Gilchrist also recommended the creation of a Technical Advisory Board, called TAB, consisting of department and agency heads to coordinate economic goals.
In addition, the county executive suggested avertising the county's available motel and hotel space for tourists and conventions. Recently the county published 30,000 fancy color tourist maps at a cost of $7,000 to be distributed through motels and hotels. The maps picture a farm on a country road beneath the slogan, "The Capital's Countryside... a map and visitor's guide to Montgomery County, Md."
Gilchrist proposed improving streets in the Shady Grove Road area, which has a large concentration of light industrial businesses.
The report issued last month by the Economic Development Advisory Board, said that growth forecasts for 70,000 new federal jobs in the county in the next eight years may have been overstated by 50,000 jobs according to revised projections.
Speaking to the meeting in Rockville last night, after a full legislative day in Annapolis, Gov. Harry Hughes emphasized his new administration's commitment to business expansion and economic development throughout the state.