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Before EDC search begins, listen to the agency's board

June 17, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

The retirement of Economic Development Director John Howard gives the Washington County government a chance to re-think its economic development strategy. Current members for the county board and candidates for the office need to make their views known before the next chief comes on board.

Howard, EDC director since September 1997, was here for significant additions to the area's warehouse, distribution and retail sectors and a major expansion by the Phoenix Color Corp., which supplies book covers and other items to the publishing trade.

There has been some grumbling that the area has enough distribution centers and that the jobs that sector supplies don't pay the average worker that much. But given the area's location, at the intersection of two major interstate highways, those kinds of operations will be drawn here.

To get the better-paying jobs, however, Washington County needs a better-educated work force. In a June 2001 interview with The Herald-Mail's Julie Greene, Howard said the education system had to begin working from the kindergarten level on up to produce graduates ready to work or go on for advanced training.

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In that same interview, Howard said that the area had to be "ready to receive new guests." By that he meant providing attractive housing developments, a good road system and amenities for people relocating here from metropolitan areas. Clearly, there's work to be done in that area as well.

The temptation for elected officials is to engage in what Howard called "the buffalo hunt," the search for that one big company that will boost the local economy. That company may come someday, but probably not before a lot of new smaller companies and expansions by existing firms.

How to make all this happen will take some thought and we're somewhat disturbed that the commissioners did not consult the EDC board before deciding to delay a search for Howard's successor until after the November elections.

That may make sense, since the next board is more likely to support a director it hires, but failing to check with the businesspeople who give their time to the EDC board was not right. The search for Howard's successor should begin with the commissioners listening to what EDC's board members have to say.

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