The lessons learned by Fairfax County in the early 1970s ought to be studied by Prince George's County officials as a possible long-term solution to their financial problems, which were outlined this week by incoming County Executive Paris Glendening.
Prince George's County may be forced to lay off as many as 600 employes next year unless it comes up with $32 million in the next few months, and services could be severely strained for several years.
Already this year, the county has had to lay off about 500 teachers and other personnel in the school system because of a budget shortfall.
"It's going to be an all-out struggle to get the money we need," Glendening said at a news conference in which he sketched a bleak picture of the county's finances.
Voters in the county last week rejected a proposal to change the controversial TRIM amendment, which limits property taxes to their 1979 levels. As a result, officials say they must look to other tax sources or seek state aid.
In the early '70s, Fairfax County began to hear grumblings from property owners who feared they might be required to pay higher taxes.
Fairfax County recalls that period in special advertising supplements currently appearing in several national publications. The ads are the latest examples of an aggressive economic development program that changed the county from a farming and residential community to a major employment center.
Fairfax County's supervisors realized there was trouble ahead if the county's principal development trend continued to be residential, the ad notes.
"In a nutshell," it continues, "their problem was this: No industry? No tax revenues."
In 1975, Fairfax County officials "leaped into one of the most unusual economic development programs ever conceived by a local government," and the results have been "phenomenal," the ad boasts.
Businesses are lining up to relocate in new office buildings and industrial space, Fairfax County says in its national business-attraction campaign. Perhaps most significant of all, it continues, "The county has become the fastest growing high-technology community east of the Mississippi."
That claim may be subject to challenge from several communities, including Montgomery County, which also has developed an aggressive economic development program as well as a high concentration of high-technology firms.
The point is, however, that economic development -- particularly the business-attraction part of it -- figures much more prominently today in state and local budgets than it did 10 years ago. What's more, the contest to lure businesses from one locale to another has become highly competitive.
This week, for example, Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb and Northern Virginia business and government leaders were in New York proclaiming Fairfax County as the "high-technology capital of the East."
Representatives from the Maryland Department of Economic and Community Development spent a week in Ottawa last month trying to persuade Canadian firms to invest in the state.
While the Maryland group was in Canada, a 10-member delegation from the Greater Washington Board of Trade was in London drumming up business for the Washington region.
And next week, the Washington-Baltimore Regional Association -- an independent group of business leaders -- will sponsor a two-day briefing for foreign journalists in an attempt to sell the region to the international business community.
Prince George's County entered the economic development sweepstakes much later than Fairfax and Montgomery counties did and hasn't developed the staff or budget to compete effectively.
Prince George's economic development program has produced significant gains in the past three years, however. In fact, the county sent representatives on the DECD mission to Canada last week.
But, whereas Fairfax County's aggressive economic development program is supported by a budget of close to $1 million, Prince George's County's budget of less than $300,000 for business attraction and economic development remains one of the lowest in the region.
"In the early 1970s, Fairfax County had a national reputation as a no-growth and antibusiness jurisdiction," says Jack Herrity, chairman of the board of supervisors.
But by 1981, more than 39 percent of business leaders east of the Mississippi "indicated they recognized Fairfax County as an optimum place to be considered in expanding or relocating their companies," he adds.
By adopting a more realistic budget for economic development and by taking a more aggressive approach in selling the county to potential investors, Prince George's may be able make the same claim eventually and lessen its revenue problems in the long run.