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Official offers encouragement to businesses

May 03, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Despite discouraging words from the state's top economic official in March, he told county business leaders on Monday night that "there is much to celebrate."

Richard C. Mike Lewin, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, spoke to some 175 area business and industry leaders at the Fountain Head Country Club in Hagerstown.

The group was honored by the Washington County Economic Development Commission at its first "Celebration of Business" event.

Lewin's energetic speech outlining the state's burgeoning economy was his first appearance in front of the county's business community since a controversial March 18 letter he wrote to Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook.

In the letter, Lewin questioned the value of trying to attract manufacturers to the county if water and sewer rates and fees will just scare them away.

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The top official broached the hot topic with humor.

Lewin said the danger public speaking poses to the heart is nothing compared to the coronary perils of reading the morning newspaper.

He said the issues highlighted by the Herald-Mail were important, but assured his audience that his department will work with the county to help reduce water and sewer hook-up fees.

"Criticism without commitment to help correct the problem is not beneficial," Lewin said.

He went on to praise statewide growth initiatives implemented by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who appointed him to his post in November 1998.

Lewin also spotlighted Washington County's low unemployment rate, "first-rate economic development team," and diverse group of businesses and industries.

"Western Maryland is a vital part of our great state, and its vitality bodes well for the rest of the state," Lewin said.

Some of the area business and industry leaders gathered gave positive comments about Lewin's speech, but said he must stick to his commitment to keep the county competitive.

"This is the same person who said we must be competitive," said Adna Fulton, president of the AC&T Co. "We're all very much aware of the problem," he said.

Lewin headlined a lineup of guest speakers, which included Snook and Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II.

Snook attributed the county's growth viability to its location, "hardworking citizens," and "reasonable development costs."

He said existing businesses have created a strong foundation for future growth.

Bruchey said Hagerstown was "working hard to keep existing businesses."

"It's imperative we continue to recruit new businesses and retain businesses," he said.

The Economic Development Commission is a county agency that provides assistance to new and existing businesses throughout Washington County. The EDC interacts with a network of public, private and nonprofit organizations to address business needs.

The EDC also cooperates with the state Department of Business and Economic Development to attract new companies to the county.

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