For seven years, in an attempt to boost tax revenue, Prince George's County officials tried to lure industries to a 1,200-acre county-owned tract near Bowie known as Collington Center.
Nothing worked. While industries flocked to other, more affluent countries, the land at Collington Center lay vacant as Prince George's taxes kept rising.
Yesterday, after the county had come up with a fresh lure, a company and a foundation finally signed contracts to build offices and settle at the center, located at Rtes. 301 and 214.
County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan says the lure, or magnet -- the term he favors -- was the creation by the county of a 77-acre foreign trade zone on the tract.
The company is a London-based textile manufacturer known as Britannia, which will build an office inside the foreign trade zone. The nonprofit foundation is the National Association of Home Builders Research Foundation, which will build offices on 25 acres at the Collington Center outside the zone.
The foreign trade zone, which was established in October, is an area where firms can import and assemble products free of tariffs that would otherwise be imposed. Import duties are levied on the goods when they leave the trade zone. If items are reexported, no duties are paid at all.
The advantage to the firms is that they can save the costs of import duties for several weeks or months, and the cost of labor and rent are sometimes lower in the United States than in other countries, according to an official in the county's economic development department.
The Prince George's foreign trade zone is the first in Maryland and the 65th in the United States.
The arrival of the two firms indicates "that Prince George's County has made great progress in selling its assets as an excellent place for business," Hogan said at a press conference yesterday.
The executive said he is renaming the Collington Center the "Prince George's International Commerce Center" because he did not want firms to confuse the area with a shopping center of the same name.
The National Association of Home Builders Research Foundation, which will move to the new center later this year, is relocating its office from Rockville. David Stahl, executive vice president of the association, said it needed more land but prices in Montgomery were about three times higher than the $10,000-per-acre price at the Prince George's tract. He also said he looks forward to being close to other concerns he expects the foreign trade zone will attract.
At the press conference, Hogan remarked on the foundation's decision to leave affluent Montgomery for Prince George's. "The ugly sister is perhaps going to be the Cinderella of metropolitan Washington," Hogan said, referring to Prince George's.