Charles County commissioners this week approved tax-free bonds for two manufacturing companies, including one firm that had intended to depart for Calvert County.

The approval helps MDL Fabricating Inc. and Capital Welding Inc. borrow from private investors to expand.

Charles County officials welcomed the prospect, saying that the two metal fabricators will bolster a strained tax base and add 50 or more manufacturing jobs to a local economy weighted toward lower-wage retail employment.

The five commissioners, in a pair of unanimous votes Monday, conferred tax-free status upon $2.4 million in bonds that will be issued for the companies. The action allows the firms to borrow at below-market interest rates.

Officials lauded Capital Welding's decision to move from rented land in Faulkner, south of La Plata, to its own building in Waldorf, and Waldorf-based MDL's decision not to go to Calvert County, where it had been offered free land.

"We couldn't be more pleased," said Commissioner W. Daniel Mayer (R-La Plata). "It's exactly what the county has been trying to do since we put this increased emphasis on economic development."

Commissioners two years ago revived the county's Economic Development Commission after several years of inactivity--a period when housing growth accelerated and population grew briskly, straining county budgets that pay for schools, roads, police and other services.

A lack of high-paying jobs was the main culprit in widespread drops in home values, according to consultants hired by the county last year.

A weak industrial tax base increases reliance on residential property taxes to pay for government functions. Earlier this year, commissioners approved a 2 percent increase in property taxes to finance improvements in the public schools.

Mayer noted Monday's action on behalf of the metal fabricators and October's announcement that a $300 million electric power plant will come to Waldorf, providing 35 permanent jobs. He said more announcements may be forthcoming.

"I think we're turning the corner here," Mayer said. "We're seeing some progress in increasing our commercial and industrial tax base and decreasing the pressure on the residential tax base."

Capital Welding President David Hartley, 41, of La Plata, said his six-year-old company will use its $1.5 million bond to buy equipment and a building formerly used by another metal fabricator in Waldorf.

"It helps," Hartley said. "Oh, my gosh. It's going to be awesome."

Capital Welding employs 45 people, a number it expects to increase to 65 in coming years, Hartley said. The company makes metal frames for buildings, metal stairs, ornamental ironwork and other metal items.

MDL President Doug Lingsch said the $900,000 bond for his company will go toward a new building in White Plains. The firm is projected to grow from its current 30 employees to 60 or 75 workers in three to five years, Lingsch said.

The firm, which makes precision-cut metal parts for military vehicles and other uses, has averaged 30 percent growth over five years, Lingsch said. He said it wants to remain in Charles County to avoid disruptions to its workers and to its customers, including those based in Virginia, for whom Calvert County is farther away.

Charles County's Economic Development Commission helped arrange the bonds. Its executive director, Aubrey Edwards, said it is important to retain firms such as MDL and Capital Welding.

"We don't plan to lose our up-and-coming young entrepreneurs who have a potential of making a contribution to Charles County," Edwards said. "We just don't intend to do that."

Calvert County's economic development director, Linda Vassallo, said MDL had not told officials there about its decision to stay in Charles. MDL last year took possession of about three acres under Calvert County's offer of free land to new companies.

"Mr. Lingsch has a contractual agreement with the Economic Development Authority in Calvert County to relocate his operations," Vassallo said. "Right now, we assume he's still coming."

Lingsch said he hoped Calvert officials would reverse the land deal. "I'm sure it could benefit some other company," he said.