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Commission's success difficult to measure

September 20, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Economic Development Commission operates with a budget of more than $400,000 and its former director spent nearly $17,000 from an expense account in his last 15 months.

County officials contacted over the past two weeks were unable to point to any business that came to the area as a result the agency's efforts during that period, they said.

Howard declined comment.

The EDC's fiscal year 2001 budget was $430,014, according to the county's operating budget. Of that amount, about $310,000 went toward the salaries and benefits of five EDC employees, leaving about $119,000 in the budget for other costs.

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Howard went on paid administrative leave in late March 2002 and retired on May 8. His salary at the time was $82,067.

County officials have said Howard's numerous trips and meetings helped establish national contacts that could help attract businesses to Washington County.

Because of the many trips, they said it isn't out of the ordinary that Howard had a lot of expenses.

"I'm guessing the EDC position travels a little bit more than other department heads," Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said.

"You do have to make the contacts," Commissioners Vice President Paul L. Swartz said. "It's a way of selling your county and your person."

Asked what specific businesses have come to Washington County as a result of Howard's business trips and meals, none of the commissioners could name any.

Commissioner Bert Iseminger said a lot of businesses have moved into the county but that a specific business did not come to mind.

Douglas Wright, chairman of the EDC board, said there's no way to tell what trip may have led to a particular business moving into the county. He said the point of going on the business outings is to advertise the benefits of moving to the county.

"You cannot define what event a sale came from," Wright said. "John (Howard) had brought a number of contacts and a number of consultants to Washington County ... His experience and his contacts were very valuable to us."

Commissioner John Schnebly said that one year 4,000 new jobs were created but he couldn't name specific businesses. He said the jobs may or may not have been the result of Howard's business outings.

"I can't say they were happening because of John Howard ... but there were things happening," Schnebly said.

He said Washington County may have benefited from the trips in the long-term. He said a business interested in relocating may remember hearing about the county through Howard's networking and decide to move here.

"We need to have a proactive presence like that," Schnebly said. "I think done in a proper way that action is perfectly legitimate."

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