The U.S. Department of Commerce approved the zone after a two-year application process.
Once procedures are established in about six months, companies will be able to import products into the trade zone duty-free, said Faryar Shirzad, assistant secretary for import administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The product can be re-exported duty-free or used to manufacture another product that can be brought into the country at a lower tax rate, he said.
The county's Economic Development Commission can use trade zone status to lure new businesses into the community, said Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook.
The idea was the brainchild of the Greater Hagerstown Committee, a group of county businesspeople.
Washington County government submitted the application and hired a consultant who was paid by the Pen Mar Development Corp., which plans to use the trade zone to attract businesses to the former Fort Ritchie army base.
Trucking company owner and developer Donald M. Bowman of Williamsport said the accomplishment shows what can happen when business and government officials work together.
"If everybody's on the same page - and sometimes we're not always on the same page - we can do great things," he said.
Inertc Corp., formerly DMC Electronics Recycling, hopes to be one of the first companies in the county to take advantage of the trade zone.
"Now the work really begins for us," said Richard Schulman, vice president and general manager of the Hopewell Road company that recycles electronics.
Certainteed Products Corp. of Williamsport and Crist Instrument Co. Inc. of Hagerstown are among the other companies who may benefit from the trade zone, Shirzad said.
Across the country, foreign trade zones are responsible for $240 billion in foreign and domestic merchandise and employ 340,000 people, Shirzad said.
The Bush Administration wants to expand the trade zones because they increase international trade and boost homeland security, he said.
A local trade zone commission, chaired by Greg Larson at the Hagerstown Regional Airport, will work on implementing the trade zone.
The following sites are within the Washington County trade zone:
-- 276 acres at Lakeside Corporate Center in Cascade (formerly Fort Ritchie).
-- 443 acres within the Hagerstown Regional Airport complex.
-- 81 acres at the Hub Industrial Park in Maugansville.
-- 722 acres in the Hunters Green/Hopewell Valley Industrial Complex.
-- 43 acres in the City of Hagers-town Industrial Park.
-- 172 acres in the Interstate Industrial Park complex in Williamsport.
-- 129 acres in the Mellott Enterprises Industrial Complex in Hancock.