Prince George's County is no longer a place where commercial and industrial development is limited to squat warehouses, automotive repair shops and Rte. 1-style fast food strips.
That's the message County Executive Parris Glendening was trying to get across to about 110 Washington area and out-of-state businessmen who took a bus tour yesterday of the various sites around Prince George's, where sleek, modernistic office complexes are springing up where there was once farmland.
The tour--for bankers, insurance brokers, developers and representatives of leasing firms--was the first of a series that will be sponsored by the county's new Economic Development Corporation. Run by private-sector entrepreneurs and professionals, the nonprofit corporation is hoping to entice new business to the county and help those businesses already there.
Citing evidence of the county's recent economic development, Jim Hubbard, a marketing representative for the Economic Development Corporation, said Prince George's has averaged construction of 500,000 to 600,000 square feet of new commercial office space annually for the past three years and most new buildings have enjoyed a high occupancy rate.
The economic development is due to a variety of factors, according to Gene Fischgrund, senior loan executive of the First National Bank of Maryland.
"It's not saturated, it has open land. It's got Metro, I-95, housing affordable to all levels and easy access to both the District of Columbia and Baltimore," he added.
Fischgrund said he went on the tour to see where the new development is and where his bank might find some new loan applicants.
Other businessmen said Prince George's has been more aggressive than other area jurisdictions in courting investors and developers and pushing their projects through the government bureaucracy.
"In Prince George's County, you can get a permit like that," said a representative of Shannon & Luchs Co. who asked not to be named. Under the county's "fast track" system, developers of projects the county finds particularly desirable can get quick attention from the government.
The emphasis on attracting new businesses and clean, light industry, dates back to the mid-1970s and former County Executive Winfield Kelly, who, with his posters and billboards proclaiming a "new quality" in Prince George's, tried to change the county's longstanding image as a blue-collar bedroom community.
Both Kelly and his successor, Lawrence J. Hogan, tried to capitalize on the location of the Goddard Space Center and the University of Maryland in the county, and the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, in attracting high technology and consulting firms.
"Kelly got the message out; Hogan got the development proposals that were coming in and pushed hard on them" said former Kelly aide John Lally. "And Parris is following through in this vein."
The invitations to the tour went out to businessmen who already have investments in the county and those who might be interested in developing here. The tour cost the Economic Development Corporation $1,400.