This month, radio listeners may tune into some banter between a husband and wife lamenting time lost commuting. Wife Joan wants to know whether husband Jim will make it to their child's back-to-school night.
"Joan, I'll try . . . but if we get caught up in [Capital] Beltway traffic coming home, I might not make it in time. . . . You'll have to go without me," Jim tells her.
Or they might hear a car-pool chat, where buddies wonder about an ex-rider who has taken a job near his home.
"Word is he actually plays nine holes of golf a couple nights a week and drops his little girl at school every morning on his way to work," one says. "Man, I don't even see my kid in the morning."
These scripted commuter moments are brought to you by Howard County's newest attempt to lure local residents to jobs closer to home.
With one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state--2.2 percent in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics--Howard County is hungry for workers. With about 650 technology companies locally, county boosters want some of the 84,000 people they say work outside of Howard to turn their cars around.
"It doesn't make sense to have two-thirds of our highly qualified work force going out of the county," said County Executive James N. Robey (D).
"We'd like to attract some of these people back to Howard County," said Donora L. Dingman, an area manager for Bell Atlantic in Ellicott City who also heads the marketing committee of the county's Economic Development Authority.
To entice them, the authority is spending $100,000 over the next 30 days on radio spots and some print advertisements plugging Howard County's employers. The ads direct listeners to a new Web site created by the authority (http://www.howardjobs.com), where job-seekers may search listings and send resumes via e-mail directly to companies that have paid to be part of the service.
A week before the Web site's official launch, about 20 resumes already had been submitted. Local employers couldn't wait to get their hands on prospects, who might be telecommunications workers, electrical engineers or computer code writers who already live in the county.
"We don't have to relocate them," said Wendy Mello, recruiting and communications specialist for Arbitron, a company that employs about 500 people in Columbia. "It's very useful to us to be able to recruit from our own back yard."
The authority's director, Richard W. Story, said the information technology jobs will run the gamut, although he suspects that interest from residents of Howard, where the median household income in 1998 was $73,756, would be mostly in higher-level positions. Story said he hopes the Web site will lure workers from other counties, too.
"The problem always gets back to we run out of bodies in Howard County," he said.
Part of the problem with attracting local talent, employers say, is the way residents look at the area.
"A lot of people think of Howard County as just a bedroom community," said Karen S. Marchetti, in business development for Paragon Computer Services Inc. in Ellicott City. She said most of the company's 26 employees don't live in Howard.
"Howard County, in pre-Columbian times certainly, was a bedroom community," Story said. But as Columbia has grown, he said, now about a third of the county's population stays in Howard to work, while the rest commute to Baltimore and the Washington area.
Arbitron and Paragon were some of the first employers to sign up for the new Web site service. Companies pay the authority from $1,500 to $12,000 to put job listings on the site, depending on how many listings they want to post and how long they want them posted. The ads promoting the Web site will run a few times a week on seven area radio stations.
There are three different commercials: the husband-wife bit, the car-pool conversation and a studio announcer spot that tries to put commuting time in perspective by listing ways people might better use the time they now spend driving to and from work.
"Our aim is to have people thinking that there is something other than commuting that they could be doing," Dingman said.