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Berkeley County attractive to business

January 25, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County is in a fortunate position when it comes to bringing new economic developments into the area, according to the man charged with that task.

"We have not had to do a lot of beating the bushes," said Robert T. Crawford. "These firms are coming to us."

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As the executive director of the Berkeley County Development Authority, Crawford sees a couple hundred queries each year from corporations, site locators and real estate firms all trying to determine if Berkeley County has what they need.

The name of the game, said Crawford, is elimination.

"A company might start out with 20 potential locations before they start making cuts," he said. "Then its a matter of who's left."

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More and more, that area has been Berkeley County.

Quad Graphics, TLM Aerospace and Sino Swearingen are among the corporations that, in recent years, have decided Berkeley County was the best place to build new facilities.

Part of the county's attraction lies in the three keys of real estate, said the director the West Virginia Development Office's business and development division.

"Location, location, location," John Snider said. "You can't overestimate the importance of Interstate 81."

A productive work force, the proximity to Washington and Baltimore, as well as the relative lack of bureaucracy in the West Virginia government also make the county attractive, Crawford said.

The lack of impact fees in Berkeley County also plays a role, according to developer Bruce Van Wyk.

The county's near absence of zoning prohibits it from charging fees that can add tens of thousands of dollars to a project built elsewhere, Van Wyk said.

Financial incentives for potential developments come primarily from the state in the form of tax credits, training programs and low-interest loans.

Unlike nearby Washington County, Md., which can offer property- and income-tax breaks, Berkeley County must abide by West Virginia laws that prevent it from offering those options.

While Berkeley County and Washington County may compete for some of the same projects, Crawford and one of his Washington County counterparts said the counties will also work together.

"There's a regional aspect to it," said Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission Marketing Director Tom Riford. "If it looks like we'll lose a project, then we might suggest another county."

As attractive as Berkeley County may be for potential development there are some potential pitfalls that can send a corporation elsewhere.

"There are two things you need for continued growth - sewer and water," said Berkeley County Commission President D. Wayne Dunham. "I-81 is the key, but transportation doesn't do any good if you don't have water and sewers."

An estimated 30 percent of the county currently has sewer and water service, and construction is set to begin on a sewer project that will add lines to another 20 percent in the southeastern part of the county.

With orchards being turned into housing developments and buildings springing up on once-empty fields, Dunham does not see an end to the continued growth.

"You have to have potential employees and land," he said. "We have both."

The county's population has boomed from 50,000 to 70,000 people over the past 10 years and Dunham said he expects it to keep going up.

While Berkeley County has not had to do much target marketing to attract potential development, Van Wyk thinks the time is nearing for the county to take a more aggressive stance.

"It's time for Berkeley County to move to a new stage and attract more high income jobs," he said.

Van Wyk said he is working on a plan to do that but said it was too early to comment on specifics.

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