County exec touts ‘hot’ biz growth in Prince George’s

WASHINGTON — Everyone’s talking about the heat, but in Prince George’s County, business leaders are talking about their county as one of the hottest locations in the future.

“It’s not just hot because of the weather, but it’s hot because of the news we’re about to provide,” says Barry Hudson, a spokesman for the county executive.

The “hot” news? There’s job growth in Prince George’s—up by more than 4,600, unemployment is down, and median home values have increased by $78,000.

“It really is a great day in Prince George’s County,” County Executive Rushern Baker says.

He made the announcement Monday in the blazing heat outside the Tapestry at Largo Station, a new apartment complex that is part of the new Largo Town Center.

Desiree Callendar, president of the Prince George’s County Association of Realtors, says that there have been fewer short sales and more equity sales in a county that–in the words of a local judge four years ago–had been experiencing a “tsunami” of foreclosures each month.

The change, Calendar says, meant more people were “walking away from the settlement table with a proceed check” instead of a statement that said, “Thank you for selling your home.”

Baker says he’s bullish on Prince George’s County, and he has been a relentless promoter and cheerful booster for new development in the county, which he insists is the economic engine of Maryland—a turn of phrase he borrowed from his friend and neighbor, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, who used it to promote Montgomery as a business and development destination.

Part of Baker’s pitch involved reminding people that much of the new development in the pipeline is near transit—namely, Metro stations.

But there have been recent revelations about maintenance and safety at Metro stations, particularly the latest news that Metro sat on information about a track problem that led to a derailment Aug. 6.

Baker says that Malcolm Augustine, a recent addition to the Metro board of directors, had been briefed on county priorities.

“One of the first charges we gave him was that … we need to make sure to get a manager who knows how to run a system, knows how to handle the finances, but also understands how important economic development is to this region,” Baker says.

Baker says he thought the system was safe, but says the riders’ experiences need to be addressed.

“We’re going to do everything we can to get the confidence of Metro riders back—back on track,” Baker says.

But while politicians and business executives sipped water to keep cool and applauded the good economic news, Baker says there is still much to be done, including tackling the issue of low-performing schools.

Callendar says schools weren’t a dealbreaker for many homebuyers. “The schools are fairly decent, but if they don’t like the schools, they can send the kids to private schools,” Callendar says.

Baker says he doesn’t want to cede education to the private schools and that he’s pushed hard to improve the public schools.

“We’re seeing improvement. Has it taken off the way I’d like to see it?” Clearly it hasn’t, and Baker says he’s impatient for change. But he sees progress.

Baker says that it used to be that just one school—Roosevelt High School—was included among the top 1,000 best schools in the nation. Now, two schools—Roosevelt and Oxon Hill High School—are on that list.

What made the difference?

“A great program, a great principal, the community coming together,” Baker says, plus confidence in the county’s future.

“I don’t want just to happen at Roosevelt and Oxon Hill and Bowie,” Baker says, ticking off a list of high schools that have been showing improvement. “I want Duval to be that way, I want Suitland –where my kids went to school–to be that way.”

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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