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Counties are in league to attract high tech

July 29, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Washington County is joining forces with four other Maryland counties, including Montgomery County, to lure and keep technology businesses in the region.

The two counties have joined Frederick, Allegany and Garrett counties to form Potomac Tech Territory of Maryland, said Tim Troxell, acting executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

Troxell likens the concept to that of Silicon Valley. While many people couldn't name the individual counties that make up that territory, it is widely known as home to computer-related companies.

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Maryland officials want Potomac Tech Territory to become home to technology businesses, particularly biotechnology companies.

The idea came from Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and has the support of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development.

With many biotechnology companies already located in Montgomery County, companies just starting or looking to expand may need cheaper land and Duncan wanted to keep them in Maryland, officials said.

Washington County can offer cheaper land, less congestion and a good work force, Hagerstown and Washington County officials said.

"Land costs are so high in Montgomery County that a new startup company can't afford it," Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said.

Water capacity issues in Frederick County, Md., give Washington County an advantage, Breichner said. So does the Hagerstown Regional Airport, he said.

"I think it's a good idea only because of the cost and availability of land both in Montgomery County and Frederick County," Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said. "I think that Washington County is next in the line there for some of those future businesses."

Started last spring, the coalition will eventually pool marketing dollars, though a financial plan hasn't been set.

Comparing the size and marketing budgets among the counties' economic development organizations should give people an idea how much the joint effort could help Washington County, Troxell said.

Washington County's EDC has four employees and an $81,406 marketing budget. Montgomery County's department has about 40 employees and a $700,000 marketing budget.

"We're behind this 100 percent. We're going to promote it and are committed to putting a marketing figure behind it," said Ed Grimm, marketing director for the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development.

Hagerstown Community College and Frederick Community College are forming biotechnology curriculum and training programs, said Ann Shipway, HCC's director of continuing education, and Marie Keegin, executive director for the Frederick County Office of Economic Development.

The group is gearing up to make a splash at BIO2003, an international biotechnology trade show to be held in Washington, D.C., and hosted by Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, Troxell said. County officials attended the recent trade show in Toronto.

Commissioners Snook, John L. Schnebly and William J. Wivell said they don't expect the coalition to stop Montgomery County from competing with Washington County for some companies.

"I still find it hard to believe that Montgomery County is going to send prospects this way," Wivell said. "If we have something to offer that they can't, I think it offers a lot of potential for this area."

Keegin said the cooperative approach should be good for business.

"Economic development is a very competitive industry. Sometimes that makes it a little more difficult for businesses," Keegin said.

"I think it's a much better way to service the bioscience industry, which is what we're looking at first, rather than drawing lines in the sand," she said. "Companies don't care what jurisdiction they're in. They want to know what services are in the area."

County Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said it will be the company that ultimately makes the decision where to locate.

Noting that the county already cooperates with neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia counties on some issues, Iseminger said it makes sense for these Maryland counties to cooperate on economic development.

Schnebly and others caution residents that the coalition isn't expected to be an overnight success.

"We tend to beat ourselves up, saying 'Why haven't we been able to do this?'" Schnebly said. "It's a natural prolonged process."

Wivell said the coalition's efforts should be considered a long-range plan.

"It all goes back to what we want to be when we grow up," Wivell said.

Information on Potomac Tech Territory of Maryland can be found on the Web at www.potomactechterritory.org.

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