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Warehouses welcome in county - to a point

April 17, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

A TruServ Corp. distribution center would be welcome in Washington County, several economic development and county leaders said Thursday after one county official questioned the wisdom of welcoming another warehouse operation.

Washington County Commissioner James R. Wade said Thursday that while he's grateful for the taxes and approximately 300 jobs TruServ could create, county leaders should focus on attracting higher-paying jobs.

"I'm sure that if we had a different type of business there, they'd pay more," Wade said.

The warehouse deal hasn't been finalized.

The commissioners will hold a public hearing on Tuesday on a plan for TruServ to use $1.5 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to buy the land for the warehouse from a Reading, Pa., development firm.

"I'm not too sure a CDBG grant should be used for that purpose," Wade said.

Several commissioners and members of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission agreed that the county needs to attract higher paying jobs, but said TruServ shouldn't be turned away.

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Commissioner R. Lee Downey said the county is not in a position to say no to TruServ.

Downey said the TruServ jobs will provide some people with higher paying jobs than they now have and could raise salaries at other companies by increasing competition for employees.

"Down the road (we) can be more selective," Downey said.

Suzanne Hayes, the economic development commission's vice chairwoman, said the groundwork was laid for Washington County to become a hub for distribution centers in the 1960s when it was decided two interstate highways would cross here.

The economic development commission, too, wants to attract companies that offer higher-paying jobs, but isn't going to turn away distribution jobs, she said.

Vincent Dellaposta, the economic development commission's secretary, said the warehouses could help attract related businesses, possibly ones that manufacture the products stored in the warehouses.

But like Wade, Dellaposta said he was worried the county was attracting more than its share of warehouses.

"The last thing that we can afford to do is make Washington County the warehouse capital of the state of Maryland," Dellaposta said.

"What we have here is a progression and maturing of the types of jobs we're going to have here in the future," economic development commission member Doug Wright Jr. said.

Cities such as Carlisle, Pa., and Charlotte, N.C., used to be known as distribution centers and have blossomed into booming towns, Wright said.

Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said that while warehouses don't necessarily bring high-paying jobs, county and business leaders are making progress in that area.

Bowers cited a deal with a Wall Street investment firm to develop Fort Ritchie as a step in the right direction. He also mentioned Friendship Technology Park planned for off Downsville Pike and Phoenix Color Corp.'s planned $100 million book manufacturing complex northwest of Washington County Regional Airport.

"I'm just so thankful to have jobs, period," said Commissioner John Shank. "Sure I'd love to have the higher-paying jobs, but at this point I'll take what I can get to keep the people employed and keep them here so they don't have to go down the road."

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook was out of town Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

In a March 5 letter to commission members released to The Herald-Mail on Thursday, Wade said that if the county continued attracting large warehouses to the Newgate Industrial Park it would have to be renamed the "Newgate Distribution Park."

"These jobs will not pay for four-year colleges or provide sufficient income to raise a family," Wade wrote.

John Howard, the economic development commission's executive director, said Thursday he would not comment about the TruServ warehouse or Wade's letter.

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