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Fort Ritchie's future

September 29, 1998

This past Sunday, a group of Herald-Mail reporters took a look at the past, present and future of Fort Ritchie, the historic Army base in the northeast corner of Washington County that's scheduled to close on Sept. 30.

After 47 years as an armed forces facility, the fort is being taken over by a quasi-public agency, the Pen-Mar Development Corporation, which envisions redevelopment that will bring 2,000 jobs there eventually.

The biggest roadblock to that project is the fact that the base is far from any large road that would support the sort of traffic associated with manufacturing. Instead, the Pen-Mar board envisions high-tech companies that would send out their products over fiber-optic phone lines instead of by rail or by truck.

That sounds good, but let us suggest a possibility in addition to that, one which uses a concept that many people in Hagerstown should be familiar with already.

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For more than 10 years, the Hagerstown/Washington County Chamber of Commerce has helped sponsor a group called Leadership Hagerstown. Once a year, local companies, governments and non-profit agencies send representatives to form a class that spends a year studying the county and the issues it faces. Once educated, the theory goes, the class members are then ready to take leadership positions in other community groups.

Each Leadership Hagerstown class begins with a weekend at the Xerox Conference Center in Leesburg, Va., where the sleeping rooms are modest and the meeting facilities roomy enough for almost any sort of lecture or audio-visual presentation.

Fort Ritchie has the same sort of facilities and enough recreational amenities to draw corporate retreats as well. Its remote location would be a plus as well, encouraging seminar participants to stay focused on their studies. And while starting operations would require some on-site staff and some fresh linens for the barracks, no major construction would be needed. And what better way to sell the fort as a job site than to bring corporate leaders here for seminars?

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