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Firms join battle against sprawl

WASHINGTON -- DaimlerChrysler is building a $1.6 billion engine plant near downtown Detroit. Some developers are trying to direct growth away from the Everglades. Dozens of businesses in York County, Pa., are trying to pump new life into downtown.

Across the country, more and more executives are joining the fight against sprawl, according to a report released Monday.Increasingly, they are worried traffic jams, air pollution and a lack of open space -- conditions often created by business in the first place -- will rob their companies of the best workers, the report says.

"If companies want to attract the best and the brightest, they pay attention to quality of life issues," said Clayton Hering, president of a Portland, Ore., real estate services firm and an advocate of limiting growth.

The study was done by the National Association of Local Government Environmental Professionals, which represents 120 local governments in 35 states.

Based on interviews with more than 50 executives, the study profiles 19 "smart growth" initiatives by businesses.

"This is just emerging," said Ken Brown, a co-author of the report. "Business leaders are finding that sprawl threatens their competitiveness."

As a result, some executives are backing ballot issues and attending planning meetings to promote growth boundaries, build mass transit and spend more money on downtowns.

The report credits Florida developers Pulte Home Corp. and Arvida Co. with trying to draw growth away from the environmentally sensitive Everglades and says 45 businesses in York County, Pa., are directing investment into old urban cores.

As well, the largest Silicon Valley employers in California are trying to make more affordable housing available.

"Regions that do a good job of protecting their quality of life will become magnets for new capital and economic growth," Tracy Grubbs, a director of the Sierra Business Council in Truckee, Calif., said in the report.

Businesses sometimes find they can save money when they expand in urban areas where roads, sewers and the like are already in place, the study says.

But there are problems.

Dayton & Hudson Corp. did not put a Target store in downtown Minneapolis because there was not enough land to support the store and parking, the report found.

Urban governments often have too much red tape for business, and their roads and other services can be in disrepair.

Consumers also may send mixed messages.

On one hand they are worried about traffic congestion, air pollution and loss of open space, said Roy Rogers of the Arvida Co. "On the other hand, they still want their dream house in the suburbs, with a big yard and a two-car garage."