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Some consider privatizing EDC

December 30, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said Friday the county has begun preliminary discussions with the Economic Development Commission about making the organization a private entity.

With a private status, the EDC would be able to receive contributions from private businesses, which it now cannot do, Wivell said.

The EDC currently receives its funding - which totaled $431,896 for fiscal year 2003 - from the county, and must follow government regulations on funding as a result, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said.

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"In a private setting, they would be able to access different funds for additional economic projects or initiatives in the county," Shoop said.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said the county would still fund the organization.

"The county would still take an active role in providing funds for the EDC," he said.

Wivell, who revived talk of the possible privatization, said the commissioners would probably put a study group together to look at the pros and cons of the group going private and whether other organizations would team up with the EDC to become a joint private venture.

"I think we're open to anything," Kercheval said.

Wivell and Kercheval are the commissioner representatives on the EDC board.

Shoop said that while talks are very preliminary, the county may consider discussions about privatizing the EDC with such groups as the PenMar Development Corp. and the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation (CHIEF).

PenMar was created by the Maryland General Assembly to redevelop the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base for business. Some 2,000 jobs were lost when Fort Ritchie closed in September 1998.

CHIEF is a private, nonprofit group that has played a major role in building industrial parks and luring companies to Washington County. It was formed in 1960.

The EDC is a county agency that provides assistance to new and expanding businesses throughout Hagerstown and Washington County. It works with public, private and nonprofit organizations to address the business needs of the community and attract new companies to the county, according to a statement.

EDC board members proposed privatizing in 1999, but their request was denied by the commissioners. Shoop said the county rejected the proposal because there was no clear plan on where the EDC would find funding.

EDC Chairman Douglas Wright said EDC members have supported privatization for years, even before the last request was rejected.

"This has been something that a number of us on the commission have wanted to do for a number of years," Wright said.

Wright said he thinks companies interested in locating in the county would be more willing to work with a private group that is run like a business than a government organization.

"Business executives look at government types with a jaundiced eye," Wright said.

Wright, Shoop and Wivell said private economic development groups have been successful elsewhere, including Franklin County, Pa., and Howard County, Md.

EDC Director Tim Troxell could not be reached for comment Friday.

PenMar Chairman Brett Wilson also could not be reached for comment Friday.

Wright said he's willing to look at all options of privatizing and work with the county on the matter.

"I think we should work hard to get there, because I think it's going to be best for the county in the long run," Wright said.

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