Consultant studies are a two-way street. First, the study has to be worth something; second, the group for whom the study was performed has to be willing to act on it.
Seems as if we got one out of two.
A recent study to assess Washington County’s economic state of things was, for a consultant study, surprisingly detailed and comprehensive.
For review, here were some of the details:
It pressured the Washington and Annapolis delegations to fund the widening of Interstate 81 to six lanes, as West Virginia and Pennsylvania are already doing.
It suggested commuter rail service to Hagerstown, tying us in with the greater Washington metropolitan area and its significant economic engine.
It recommended the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown become a four-year school with student dorms downtown.
It promoted fiber, recognizing that broadband is key to economic development. And it suggested special incentives to Potomac Edison for providing cheap power to tech companies that need lots of power, such as those with big servers in financial and data centers.
It played on the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, advising that we try to add a Hagerstown campus for the Maryland School of the Arts and Design.
It suggested an end to substandard downtown housing.
It recognized our rural strengths and suggested that we do the same, from promoting farm products to turning Woodmont Lodge into an upscale resort.
So how did the county respond? Well, to put it charitably, it didn’t set itself up to fail — meaning that it approved five “stragic priorities” that are so tame and mealymouthed that I absolutely, positively guarantee that no one will remember them five years out.
I say this in confidence, because I had to go back and look them up myself, even though the list was less than a week old. There is a general statement about “infrastructure.” OK, infrastructure is good. And better “marketing.” Fine. Improve the City of Hagerstown. Works for me.
The part of the study that hinted that our EDC structure as it stands now is marginally dysfunctional? Well, no, we won’t be touching that. Everything is pretty much okey dokey as far as we can see.
The thing that screams from the hilltops is this: Before this consultant study, was marketing not a priority?
Before the study was infrastructure not an issue?
Who did they need to call in to tell us that the City of Hagerstown is an issue? Edgar Cayce?
I mean, really, why draw up a list of priorities that even the pigeons on the Post Office are aware of?
The most entertaining part was the priority of “workforce development.” Yeah, pretty much knew that one already, too. What’s fascinating is that at the same time the Washington County Commissioners were rubber-stamping this one, they were turning down, at least for now, a Greater Hagerstown initiative that would have actually done something about it — providing college or trade scholarships to all kids, regardless of their families’ ability to pay.
That’s pretty much the situation in a nutshell: List “workforce development” as a priority and, in the same breath, deny the one initiative that might actually rectify the situation.
Here’s the prediction:
In one year — a full two years after the study was commissioned — our workforce will be no more developed than it is today.
Our marketing will not be appreciatively changed.
Infrastructure? That’s measurable, so the results will speak for themselves. (Will we have a new city/county water agreement? Countywide broadband?)
And the city will be the city.
Let’s hope these predictions are wrong.
Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.