Editorial was unfair to existing businesses and EDC
To the editor:
The Herald-Mail editorial printed on April 9 titled “After one year, Washington County economic development in limbo,” is both incomplete and misleading. The Washington County Board of County Commissioners and the EDC refute the editorial board’s suggestions that economic development is stagnant in Washington County.
The county has a team of eight people as well as a dedicated 12-member board who have been diligently moving economic development activity forward in Washington County. Economic development activity is being accomplished with less staff than in the prior year, and the team has been in direct contact with existing county businesses.
Since the “great recession,” economic development methods have changed and there are fewer opportunities to land new large companies with 400-plus jobs. Regional competition among states in the mid-Atlantic region is considerable. However, through the one-job-at-a-time focus, more than 400 additional jobs were created among existing businesses in Washington County in the past year. All too often, the media does not consider existing business retention efforts as glamorous as a new company, but the Board of County Commissioners and the EDC feel these companies — and the retention approach — deserve just as much credit.
County Commissioners, in conjunction with the EDC, have taken several steps to help foster economic growth:
• Visited more than 50 local businesses as part of a weekly business outreach initiative;
• Extended the residential construction stimulus plan until the end of September 2013;
• Amended the Excise Tax Ordinance to assist commercial and residential construction;
• Partnered with Western Maryland Small Business and Technology Development Center to assist small businesses with one-on-one consulting and training programs. This office is in the EDC office.
As a result, the following has been accomplished:
• Washington County’s average unemployment rate is at a four-year low of 8.6 percent according to data through December 2012.
• More incentives have been offered to existing businesses than in prior years.
• Economic development project inquiries have increased year over year. Although many are considered confidential and cannot be shared with the public, it does not mean that activity is stagnating.
To further facilitate county economic development opportunities, Washington County Commissioners approved the hire of a project liaison and strategic plan coordinator. The new project liaison, Terry Irwin, will provide progress reports for projects initiated through the EDC and serve as a point of contact during the submission, review and permitting phase for commercial economic development projects.
Currently advertised as a job opening, the strategic plan coordinator will utilize appropriate staff, stakeholders and other resources to carry out the planning, implementation and tracking of project initiatives as they relate to accomplishing the initial goals derived from the Strategic Economic Development Plan (SEDP) outlined by the EDC and the County Board of Commissioners.
The Economic Development Team consists of the following specialized expertise:
• Business Development, led by Robert Mandley, handles large clients and business inquiries.
• Agriculture Business Development, led by Leslie Hart, handles agriculture business assistance.
• Business Support Specialist, led by Linda Spence, handles small business, existing business and retention support.
• Small Business Development, led by Sam Devaram, handles small-business financing and strategic planning.
• Marketing, led by Tabitha Porterfield, handles economic development strategic marketing and communications initiatives.
• Project Coordination, led by Terry Irwin, assists new commercial projects and business expansion projects through the regulatory process.
• Office Support Coordination handles research and team support functions.
• Strategic Plan Coordination handles the implementation of the Strategic Economic Development Plan.
County Administrator Greg Murray is managing the EDC staff and Chairman Daniel Pheil manages the EDC Board of Directors and ex-officio members. The board of directors consists of the following subcommittees:
• Workforce Development
• Strategic Planning Taskforce
• Small Business Development
• Site Development and Regulations
• Marketing and Public Relations
In closing, we want to emphasize that we will not be completely satisfied until we have “full employment” in Washington County. We will continue to pursue economic development opportunities that improve the living standard of our citizens while using our resources as efficiently as possible.
County Commissioners President Terry L. Baker
County Commissioners Vice President John F. Barr
County Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham
County Commissioner Jeffrey Cline
County Commissioner William B. McKinley
Hagerstown-Washington County EDC Chairman Daniel Pheil