"The Wire," an HBO urban drama series that will begin filming its fourth season this month, recently moved its offices and interior sets to Columbia from Baltimore.

It did so grudgingly. "To be truthful, Columbia is not ideal for us," said Nina Noble, the show's executive producer. "Most of our filming takes place in Baltimore City. . . . The commute is less than desirable for us."

When the lease for "The Wire" ran out last year, the landlord wanted to make space for a retail tenant. That left the show few options in the city, where many warehouses are being converted into more lucrative townhouses or office buildings.

Finding new space was tough, Noble said. "We have certain requirements on column width and ceiling height," she said. "And we lease space by the year, and not every warehouse industrial space is willing to do that."

So the show started shopping around in Howard County. Finally, the crew found a site in Columbia, though the show declined to disclose the exact location.

The presence of "The Wire" is expected to pump big bucks into the county's economy, with spending on hotels, caterers, office supplies and babysitters for the children of out-of-town workers.

Pushing for More Liquor Licenses

Restaurateurs who want to open several locations in Howard County face a huge problem: a dearth of liquor licenses.

For decades, state law limited restaurants to one liquor license in each county. As Howard County grew, and chains clamored for a larger presence here, the state legislature agreed in 1994 to grant an extra "luxury" license to six operators that meet certain seating and investment benchmarks.

That allowed chains such as Brinker International Inc. of Dallas (owner of Chili's and Romano's Macaroni Grill) and Darden Restaurants Inc. of Orlando (owner of Red Lobster and Olive Garden) to serve alcohol in more than one location in the county.

Those luxury licenses got snapped up, and last year the state agreed to grant two per restaurant operator.

Now the Howard County Economic Development Authority wants more and has asked the county's Liquor Board to request legislation that would lift the cap.

If the Liquor Board determines that the request has merit, it could present legislation to the county delegation, which will hold public hearings after Labor Day to consider which bills to introduce before the General Assembly when it convenes in January.

Seeing Boon if Ft. Meade Grows

Fort Meade's anticipated job gains could be a bonanza for the county.

At least that's what county officials are hoping.

In a bid to consolidate the nation's military bases, a federal commission has proposed moving more than 5,000 jobs to Fort Meade from other bases.

The proposal awaits President Bush's approval. But county officials are already plotting to court employees who might want to live in the county and the service-related businesses they might need, such as dry cleaning, restaurants and banks.

"All that money in motion will be banked somewhere," said Richard C. Story, chief executive of the county's economic development authority.

The county also might have a shot at attracting defense contractors, who are expected to follow the base expansion and bring about 10,000 employees to the area.

The county already benefits from its proximity to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade. Defense contractors doing business with the intelligence-gathering agency have been flocking to its doorstep in recent years, especially when the NSA began dangling cash in its quest for cutting-edge technology.

The demand for office space around the NSA created a crunch in that area of Anne Arundel County, and landlords nudged tenants without ties to the agency to move to Columbia.