You might say it all started in a hotel room in Denver.
For the first time, Prince Georges County dispatched representatives to meeting in Denver of a group of corporate real estate executives and brokers who front for major firms. They rented a hospitality suite and wined and wooed the executives. They came out of the meeting with more than 100 business contacts.
Later, one of those contacts hosted a luncheon for County Executive Lawerence H. Hogan attended by representatives of 15 major compaines and three international firms who at least now realize that the county exists.
Then there was the overnight stay in Chicago.
County officials heard that a major trade association in Chicago that was planning to move to the county had changed its mind. Another county representative was flown there to convince the association to move to Prince Georges, and now the county has won back the $2.5 million deal.
"The $2.5 million wouldn't have come if we hadn't spent the whole $200 for one night," explained Paul Gibert, the new director of the county's economic development department, whose initials coincidentally are P.G.
After years of neglect, the county's economic development efforts are being "regrouped," Gilbert said. "In the last 18 months, we have not had anything of consistency that resembled an economic development program. We've got to do something to get the name of this county in front of the people."
Among the county's unusual proposals is establishing a duty-free foreign trade zone to take advantage of increased carbo traffic from Baltimore Washington International airport and the county's location near Washington. Because BWI now handles about 50 percent of cargo coming in and out of the area's three airports, cargo shipments flown into the airport could being shipped to the foreign trade zone for storage, Gilbert said. Imported goods that can be used directly in manufacturing in the zone would be exempt from tariffs.
The zone would contain different manufacturing concerns set up to handle components for finished products. Most of the work would be assembling, distribution, storage and manufacturing.
"What we want to do is place on emphasis more on national and international firms." Gilbert said. National firms tend to attract international firms, he added.
"A trade zone should be looked at as a tool, a resource to enhance the location," Gilbert said, during the next three to six months, the county will examine the feasibility of the zone. It would be the first in the state and the Washington area.
The couty plans to analyze what firms ship in and out of BWI as well as the Port of Baltimore. So far, it has only one foreign investor within its borders.
Gilbert's lofty economic plans are meant to reduce unemployment and expand the income tax base of the county. The recently passed TRIM laws restrict the amount of property tax that Prince George's can collect. "To offset TRIM, we have to go after income tax, so we want high-income employes in new firms," Gilbert said. "We also want firms with an image that once here can start a trend."
The county also has potential within the next three to six months of having $30 million to $40 million in revenue bonds or loan guarantes approved by the state, Gilbert said. That means about 13 companies are planning to relocate or expand there, he explained.
In another area, Gilbert plans to rehabilitate the county's deteriorating areas within the Beltway such as Suitland and Bladensburg.
Gilbert said he has introduced a number of costcutting measures, including eliminating the advertising agency which was paid $70,000 and having Prince George's County produce its own advertising booklets. "To go with a really beautiful, glossy permanent thing is not only a little beyond us, it's not practical," Gilbert said. "Now, we have flexibility to use our money in other areas."