Sites shown on a map of Prince George's County in Monday's Washington Business were mistakenly identified as industrial and office parks. The legend accompanying the map should have been labeled Priority Development Projects.
An economic revolution is spreading in Prince George's County.
While most attention is focused on the office building boom in downtown Washington and the concentration of commercial buildings at Tysons Corner in Northern Virginia, Prince George's County is quietly emerging as a strong attraction for investors.
For years, Prince George's County has been regarded by many as a backwater of metropolitan Washington. More often than not, nonresidents of the county perceive it as a blue-collar bedroom community, overbuilt with cheap garden apartments and warehouses.
Many of the garden apartments and warehouses remain, but county officials are taking dramatic steps to change its image through an ambitious economic development program.
The most visible signs of change can be observed along the Capital Beltway, or that stretch of Interstate 95 that meanders through the county. Increasingly, rolling farmland is giving way to the signs and shapes of commerce along a new skyline. High-rise office buildings have replaced barns and grazing land.
In time, the beltway could become "the main street" of Prince George's County, one official boasted.
But the shift to a more diversified economic base can be seen also in the development of business parks in campus-like settings, and a substantial growth in the number of high technology companies in areas other than around the beltway.
At the same time, Prince George's has compiled an impressive roster of major national and multinational corporations that have established divisions or regional offices in the county, including IBM, Xerox, Volkswagen of America, Digital Equipment Corp., and HRB-Singer Inc.
As a result of this sudden interest in the county, developers will have built close to 4 million square feet of office space in Prince George's since 1979--a rate unequaled in its history. Meanwhile, county officials point out, the absorption rate over the past year has been 1 million square feet, compared with fewer than 100,000 square feet four years ago.
More than 1 million square feet of space will be added in 13 buildings under construction, and at least that much is planned for about 15 more.
"Bear in mind we have done all of this with interest rates close to 20 percent," observes County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan.
If interest rates were lower, added Hogan, "We would be in a fantastic boom."
Three years ago, Hogan declared that economic development would be the "top priority" of his administration.
Indeed, economic development has taken off under Hogan, although he seems reluctant to take full credit for the changes that have occurred.
"I think there's always a tendency for politicians to take more credit than they deserve," he says.
Hogan acknowledges that his predecessor tried to attract developers to the county, but he cites a combination of factors, primarily the county's past image and the economy, that stifled that effort.
It was Winfield Kelly, Hogan's predecessor, who pushed to get the Woodmore project started, notes James Threatte, marketing director of the county's department of economic development.
Woodmore is a 1,127-acre, estate-type community and championship golf course development in which Arnold Palmer is a partner.
High mortgage interest rates have hurt sales at Woodmore, but county officials are optimistic that the development, which was designed for upper-income families, will prove more popular with a resurgence in the housing market.
Threatte also recalls that William Gullett, Kelly's predecessor, was instrumental in getting Washington Bullets and Capitals owner Abe Pollin to build the Capital Centre in Prince George's County.
"We've always wanted economic development in the county, but it was Hogan who set it as a priority, which probably set him apart from the others," said Threatte.
If anything, Hogan's personal involvement as a salesman has set him apart. Besides leading business attraction missions to Europe and Asia, he often takes the initiative in trying to persuade developers and other business prospects to invest in the county.
For example, Hogan called the president of McCormick Properties at Hunt Valley, Md., last year and declared: "We want you to move Hunt Valley to Prince George's County."
McCormick subsequently acquired a tract along the beltway in Landover where it is developing a high-grade business park similar to its 400-acre Hunt Valley Industrial Park near Baltimore.
McCormick's Inglewood business park will include a 200 to 300 room hotel/conference center in the campus-like setting of single-story, multi-use buildings.
"Prince George's is attractive for a couple of reasons," explained Edward A. Ely, manager, development and operations, for McCormick Properties. "First, they had sites on the beltway, and the land was reasonable.
"There seems to be a hole over here for what we do," Ely continued. "Montgomery County has a sewer moratorium and they've got traffic problems and so has Fairfax County." rince George's County's location and an excellent road network of interstate and U.S. highways makes it an ideal place for new and expanding businesses, said Ely.
"I don't believe Prince George's County has done enough to sell those amenities."
"It's because of what has not been built there and a lack of demand before that have contributed to new development" in the county, said Alan I. Kay, whose firm, Rozansky & Kay, is developing a major office park at Interstate 95 and Powder Mill Road.
Not only is the price of land "substantially less" in Prince George's than it is elsewhere in metropolitan Washington, but also the county "has cleaned up its act, and they're attempting to attract a better grade of development," said Kay.
What's more, although Prince George's income level isn't as high as that of adjacent Montgomery County or of Northern Virginia's Fairfax County, "it continues to rise," says Kay.
A study prepared for the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission shows the average household-buying income for Prince George's was $24,951 in 1979, second lowest in metropolitan Washington. However, the county's rate of growth in that category over a 10-year period was 8.9 percent, second only to Fairfax City's 9.4 percent.
"It's vitally important that we improve the economy of Prince George's County," says Hogan.
The entire thrust, he made clear, is to correct mistakes that are the legacy of questionable county government policies of the '50s and early '60s.
"After World War II, some unscrupulous people bribed county officials and they would convert farmland into junky garden apartments overnight," Hogan charged.
As a result, he said, "We have been the magnet for low-income people all over the area. We've had virtually no economic base for industry."
As county officials began to think more in terms of a comprehensive economic development program, they were forced to proceed cautiously in the face of a sewer moratorium, which was lifted in 1976.
Now, Threatte points out, "We have the sewer capacity that nobody has, and we have the cheapest and most available land. We think Prince George's is the best value you can get."
Leased office space in the county costs about $15 a square foot, while space in similar high-grade office buildings can cost as much as $35 a square foot.
George H. Smith, an economist in the county's department of program planning and economic development, traces the surge in office development to the opening of the Washington Business Park in the late '70s. Tenants in the 235-acre park, which was developed by Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, include HRB-Singer, Alcoa, Sony Corp., GE Space Systems Division and Schwartz Brothers.
The success of Washington Business Park is considered a prime factor that has resulted in the development of at least 15 major business and office parks in the county.
Economic Research Associates Inc. concludes in a recent study that Prince George's is "becoming recognized as a highly desirable area for expanding, relocating and operating a business."
ERA also found that a rapidly increasing number of manufacturing, electronic, computer software, telecommunications, defense contracting and other high technology firms are expanding or relocating to the county.
County estimates place high technology investment at $240 million in real estate, producing about 18,000 jobs over the past three years.
Prince George's has several natural built-in attractions for high technology firms, officials point out. It is, for example, the home of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center, the University of Maryland and the USDA's Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville.
Its proximity to the nation's capital and two major airports, and its location at the heart of the Baltimore-Washington corridor, also make it an attractive location for high technology firms, as well as other companies.
Mindful of the county's success in attracting those firms, officials have embarked on an ambitious marketing program to lure others. A major part of that effort involves a pitch to the international market.
"We are gearing up a pilot marketing effort to attract foreign high technology firms and to alert international companies to what we have to offer," said Francis X. Sheehan, coordinator of the county's Foreign Trade Zone.
At the same time, Threatte's office has contacted more than 300 domestic science and technology firms. key marketing tool in the county's program is the proposed Maryland Science and Technology Center at the interchange of U.S. Rte. 50 and Maryland Rte. 3.
The center, which will be developed on a 463-acre site, is being planned by the University of Maryland in cooperation with the county and state as a high-technology employment center. It is modeled after the Stanford Research Park in California and the Research Triangle at Raleigh-Durham, N.C. A major objective is to combine the talents and resources of the University of Maryland and the business community.
Equally as important in the county's marketing program is development of the International Commerce Center and Foreign Trade Zone, an industrial park on U.S. Rte. 301.
Approximately 80 of the 1,280 acres at the center are being marketed as a duty-free foreign trade zone. Several foreign-based companies have expressed interest in the zone.
At the same time, at least one German company has committed to build a facility there, and a British firm, which Hogan declined to identify, has signed a contract that will result in about 600 jobs.
And, the National Homebuilders Association plans to build a research center in the trade zone, county officials disclosed.
The site was acquired by the county for use as an air park in the '60s but in the controversy that followed, it "just sat there," said Hogan. It was Hogan who pushed the foreign trade zone concept as a showcase for economic development.
Development of a growing high technology industry and more office and industrial space represent only part of the county's economic development program.
Developers and county officials have concluded that business travelers, as well as tourists coming to the Washington area, are creating a demand for more and better hotel accommodations in the suburbs. Historically, Prince George's has lagged other jurisdictions in providing those accommodations. owever, "potential spin-off of hotel and restaurant activity is being generated by the changing character of office and industrial space development," notes the department of program planning and economic development.
Currently, more than 800 new hotel rooms are planned in the county. In addition to the proposed hotel at Inglewood, others scheduled to be developed are a Holiday Inn at the Metro East business park near the Metro and Amtrak stations in Landover, a Hilton at the Capital Office Park on the Beltway at Greenbelt, and a hotel-conference center at the Maryland Trade Center just off the interchange between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and the beltway.
A good bit of the hotel as well as high-quality office development is occurring near the beltway and between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Kenilworth Avenue. At the hub of most of the development there is the town of Greenbelt, which could become the second largest city in Maryland, county officials believe.
Nonetheless, there is concern that traffic in that area could become almost as much a problem as it has in the Tysons Corner area of Fairfax County, often called the hottest piece of commercial real estate in metropolitan Washington.
But Hogan believes the advantages of concentrated development around Greenbelt far outweigh the the disadvantages. The possibility of serious traffic problems "should not be a deterrent to putting the county on a sound financial footing," he said.
Keep in mind, Hogan pointed out, "We were always playing catch-up."
It is still a game of catch-up, but county officials are encouraged by the increase in employment opportunities created by new and expanding businesses.
Statistics compiled by the planning office show that Prince George's unemployment rates are lower than comparable state and national averages.
Despite increased job opportunities provided by new firms, the stability of existing companies, particularly small businesses, is vital in maintaining a sound employment base, county officials maintain.
Toward that end, the office of planning and program development has established satellite offices to promote and coordinate revitalization projects for small businesses.
The aim, says Burton W. Oliver, the department's director, is to help existing businesses "improve and stabilize neighborhoods."
At least one-third of his department's resources are directed to that project, said Oliver.
Oliver has also formulated a pilot program called the Incubator Project, designed to assist struggling entrepreneurs in the county. Under the concept, the department of program planning and economic development will provide space for entrepreneurs to develop their businesses.
Oliver said his staff is looking at available surplus property where 10 or 12 small businesses can develop "until they are able to expand. We could then bring in new businesses and start the cycle again.
"We think it would be a great launching pad for that young entrepreneur. And we think we would find a lot of small businesses like this that are intimidated by start-up costs, rent, etc."
Initially, the program is being planned on a limited basis, but officials are optimistic that the concept will pay off.
"We have a limited budget and we try to get a lot out of it," said Oliver.
Indeed, the budget for the economic development activities of the office is only $240,000, compared with $900,000 in Fairfax County, Threatte pointed out.
Nonetheless, through its vastly improved marketing program and through financial assistance in the form of industrial revenue bonds, and loans available to businesses through the Maryland Industrial Financing Authority, Prince George's County has managed to attract investors in unprecedented numbers.
"I see nothing but optimism on the horizon," says Hogan. "There will be an unprecedented boom in the county and a lot of people will make a lot of money."
And that, added Hogan, is the message he delivers to businessmen wherever he goes in metropolitan Washington.