Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said that when he was first elected in November 2010, he wanted an economic plan to bring a “wow factor” to the county.
“We said, ‘Well everybody has a $5 million [economic development incentive] fund, but what about $20 million?’” Baker said. “What will get people’s attention? Someone said, ‘What about $50 million?’ I said, ‘Wow. There’s the wow factor.’”
County officials and business owners celebrated the successes seen in the year since the county’s $50 million economic development incentive fund was established in November 2011 at an event Monday at the Beltsville headquarters of public relations and online marketing firm Vocus, a company that officials said stayed in the county in part due to the program.
Baker said that in its first year, the EDI fund has been able to provide financing to six companies looking to move to or expand in Prince George’s, leveraging $2.4 million in county funds to secure $26 million in private investment.
“If you can find me anyone who said that was possible two years ago, I’ve got the Brooklyn Bridge I’d like to sell you,” Baker said jokingly. “Now we have people looking here [to do business] because we are willing to take the risk along with them.”
Representatives of some of the businesses who secured EDI funding said the fund came at just the right time, given the tightening of lending during the recession.
Sashi Patel, owner of the planned Hampton Inn in Camp Springs, said being able to leverage public money was crucial in obtaining the financing he needed to move foward with the hotel.
“We wanted to build our second hotel in Prince George’s County, but it was hard to find financing,” Patel said. “The banks were looking for bigger down payments, but thanks to [the EDI fund], we will be able to provide 50 permanent jobs and we’re looking to break ground some time next month.”
Steve Vintz, chief financial officer of Vocus, which still is finalizing its deal for county and state financing of an expansion from its current 100,000-square-foot office space, said the county’s support factored heavily into their decision to remain in Prince George’s.
“We actually shopped around a couple different states and jurisdictions,” Vintz said. “This space is temporary until we can build a bigger, broader campus. We like it here [in Prince George’s], and it’s centrally located for a lot of our employees.”
County Councilwoman Mary Lehmann (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel, whose district includes Vocus’ headquarters, said that although she was skeptical of the size of the fund when first introduced, she has been impressed with its effectiveness in attracting and retaining businesses.
“It’s important that we realize that jobs in Beltsville means jobs in Prince George’s County and benefits for the whole county,” Lehmann said. “...More than 60 percent of residents leave the county for work, and we’d like to flip that around. And to do that means the roads could be less clogged, and residents could spend more time with their families and more time in the community.”
Baker said that now that the process for approving EDI funds is fully established, many more deals will be approved in the coming year. He said there currently are 15 applications in the pipeline for approval.
“I want it to happen much faster, and we need to be a little bit more of a risk-taker,” Baker said. “And I think that can happen now, with the process established and loans already in the pipeline, now things can happen faster. It’ll just take some time to see the impact.”