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County courts higher-paying jobs

May 31, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

Washington County has jobs. Now it needs higher-paying jobs, the president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission said Wednesday.

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"Just being employed isn't the point anymore. We've got to get these average incomes up," Suzanne Hayes told the Maryland Economic Development Commission.

State officials were in Hagerstown to get input on the state's economic development strategy for the coming decade.

Hayes said Washington County has low unemployment but has not been able to attract as many high-tech jobs as it would like.

"Fewer and fewer of our college graduates return home. We cannot allow this to continue," said Washington County Commissioner Paul L. Swartz.

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David Fields, who started a satellite telecommunications business, Integrated Systems Design Inc., here in February, said people often ask him about the number of jobs he will create rather than about the salary.

Alan Sullivan, chief technical officer of RegisterFREE of Hagerstown, said his Internet company has grown from two to 14 employees in the last six months.

Even though the jobs pay $40,000 to $70,000, he has had a problem finding qualified information technology workers, he said.

Community and business leaders identified several public-private projects intended to boost the county's economic development.

The University System of Maryland's Hagerstown education center will also help downtown revitalization, said Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II.

Bruchey also made a pitch for three other projects - a national Civil War museum that has been proposed for downtown Hagerstown, an interactive children's science museum called Discovery Station, and a new minor league baseball stadium.

Officials of two fledgling businesses told state officials about the importance of extending the Hagerstown Regional Airport's 5,400-foot runway to 7,000 feet.

Ted Larew of California Microwave said his company plans to bid next year on $10-million-a-year defense contracts involving jet engine planes that require a longer runway.

"If we can't fly in and take off, we have to take our business somewhere else," said Larew, whose company is owned by Northrop Grumman.

A longer runway is also essential for Hagerstown to keep commercial air service, said Joe Otto, president of Aviation Resources of Hagerstown.

Other needs identified by local leaders Wednesday:

- Widening the 13-mile stretch of Interstate 81 in Washington County from two lanes to four lanes in each direction.

- Developing downtown as an arts and entertainment district.

- Encouraging local governments to consolidate.

- Taking advantage of a fiber optic cable that will run along Interstate 70.

- Using higher education institutions to promote economic development.

- Expanding revolving loan funds.

The Maryland Economic Development Commission in 1995 conducted a similar strategic planning process that led to business-friendly changes in state regulations and permitting processes, said state EDC Executive Director Sally Scott Marietta.

Marietta is traveling around the state and will give local jurisdictions a chance to comment on the new plan before it's done, she said.

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