Official says county's development strong

April 07, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

HAGERSTOWN - Although Washington County started out 2005 with layoffs, an economic development official on Wednesday predicted there would be gains in the employer and work force base as the year goes on.

"2005 hasn't started out the greatest, but there have been some positives," Tim Troxell, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, told a group of 65 businesspeople Wednesday. "We've been riding a pretty good wave here in the past couple of years."

During the monthly Eggs & Issues discussion series held by the Hagerstown-Washington Chamber of Commerce, Troxell said the region closed out 2004 with several strong investments.


He said these came from both existing and new companies and yielded about 1,600 new jobs from about eight employers.

In addition, Troxell said, there was an overall capital investment of $84 million in commercial and industrial construction.

"That's a tremendous number. That's about a 44 percent increase from where we were last year," Troxell said.

He said the economic development commission was able to keep another 300 jobs in the area by working with a large employer who had considered moving out of the region. "They were jobs (from) an existing company that was in Washington County that was looking to move somewhere else."

The EDC works to keep employers in the area and attract new ones.

Troxell listed some of the pluses:

-- Construction of a new Lowe's Companies Inc. distribution center on Wesel Boulevard.

-- The addition of 232 jobs at First Data.

-- Addition of a new product line at Caldwell Manufacturing Co., yielding 40 new jobs at its Williamsport facility.

-- The addition of 40 jobs as the result of a 24,000-square-foot new office building at Network Connectivity Solutions Inc., which decided to keep its headquarters in Washington County.

Troxell said he was disappointed by some of the news early in the year.

GST AutoLeather is expected to lay off as many as 190 workers at its retanning operation near Williamsport and to furlough 50 workers in its finishing department, union representatives said Tuesday. Those layoffs could begin as early as May.

Phoenix Color Corp. shut down operations at its book manufacturing plant at Hagerstown Regional Airport in February and laid off 150 people.

Fleetwood Travel Trailers of Maryland Inc. decided in February to close its Hancock manufacturing plant on April 1. Nearly half of the plant's 289 employees lost their jobs in the plant's final days, while only 30 had found work at Fleetwood's Williamsport plant.

Troxell said some positives could come out of those moves, however, with potential redevelopment at Fleetwood's Hancock plant among them. He said he believes the county still can be fertile ground for manufacturing.

Of the 1,600 new jobs created last year, about 11 percent were in the manufacturing sector, according to the EDC's 2004 annual report.

"Right now, it's difficult to do some of the manufacturing here in the United States," Troxell said. "There still are manufacturing companies that are out there and are being successful."

David Taylor, president of the Bowman Development Corp. that sponsored the event, said he was encouraged by Troxell's outlook.

"It was very positive, Washington County just has a tremendous quality of life and the people of Washington County have made it that way," he said.

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