A bus tour conducted recently by Prince George's County economic development officials for prospective investors and developers was as symbolic as it was informative. Economic development in the county clearly has momentum.
To use the vernacular of the gambler, the county is on a roll.
How elected officials and business leaders join forces to harness that momentum to avert potentially serious problems related to development is critical. Without proper safeguards in place, economic development in the county could be derailed by hasty political and zoning decisions.
Beaming with confidence over the sudden attraction that his jurisdiction holds for the office and R&D markets and other investors, Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening capped last week's bus tour with a prediction that the county will be the focal point of the 1980s.
Although that might be interpreted by some as just so much boosterism, Glendening does have some impressive gains to show, at least for the early 1980s. The two-hour bus ride was more a familiarization tour than a definitive look at business growth and development opportunities in the county. But beyond the selective stops on the tour is strong evidence of a boom in business growth and job development.
Office parks rivaling those in other local jurisdictions in design and scope; modern regional and corporate offices, and R&D facilities have all but supplanted tacky warehouses and repair shops as the core of commercial and industrial development in the county.
Several major firms specializing in high technology applications have announced plans in recent months to expand or relocate in the county, guaranteeing development of thousands of new jobs. The move by the Capital Institute of Technology from Kensington in neighboring Montgomery County to a new campus in Beltsville next fall is expected to enhance the attraction of Prince George's as a prime location for other high-tech firms.
The presence of NASA, the Goddard Space Center and the University of Maryland and its proposed technological center have already put the county in a commanding position to attract high-tech firms.
A partial list of companies with regional offices or divisions in Prince George's reads like a Who's Who among industrial and technological giants. It's a fairly safe assumption that they will be joined by others.
Even as Glendening spoke last week, Allegheny Beverage Corp. of Baltimore was preparing to change its official address to Prince George's County, where it will join corporate residents such as Giant Food Inc., Dart Drug Corp. and Hechinger Co.
Recently, RIS Paper Co. broke ground in the county for its new divisional headquarters and Chevy Chase Savings and Loan Association, Maryland's largest state-chartered S&L, announced plans to build its operations center in Prince George's.
More than 471,000 square feet of office space were built and opened for occupancy in the county in the past six months, another 1.2 million square feet are under construction and an additional 1.4 million square feet will be built starting this summer. That represents 12,400 jobs with about 25 percent of the total resulting in employment in the past six months, according to Glendening.
Aware of the mushrooming business growth in the county, financial and other support services organizations also are locating there. Legg Mason Wood Walker, for example, became the first full-service securities firm to open offices in the county last week, preceding Washington's Johnston, Lemon Co., which has similar plans.
County officials are even more confident about business growth in the 1980s because of a recent decision to take economic development out of the government structure and turn it over to a nonprofit corporation. The new Prince George's Economic Development Corp. will be governed by a 19-member board of directors. All economic development functions will be performed on a contractual basis with the county, ostensibly ensuring increased productivity and greater flexibility.
Now that developers and other investors are being drawn to Prince George's in greater numbers, the question is whether county officials will be burned again by get-rich-quick schemes, zoning scandals and illegal payoffs, or have they built in safeguards that are strong enough to avoid the scandals of the '60s.?