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County has failed to do its job

July 03, 2005

By John Colson

In his June 26 reply to my May 1 article on jobs in Washington County, I was flattered to see that Thomas Firey accepted the bulk of my research even though he used it to make an argument that reaches a doubtful conclusion. My May 1 article makes it clear that I discussed local, regional (using Fredrick County) and statewide data. I am flattered to find so much of what I wrote was incorporated into his piece.

Firey, not surprisingly, finds the federal government to be the cause of our problems here in Washington County: "The main reason that regional housing prices are outpacing income is the D.C. area's white-hot job market, fueled by the Bush administration's rapid expansion of the federal government." Wow! If only we lived somewhere else our problem would vanish.

Before he makes this blanket claim, perhaps Firey should look outside our region. South Florida, well outside the D.C. job market and the expanding federal government, has seen a 35 percent increase in housing prices in the last year. Similar, or larger increases can be found in any metropolitan area. Not even the most casual reader of real estate news or viewer of MSNBC could be as unaware as Firey apparently is of the fact that this is a nationwide problem. It's just far easier and less intellectually rigorous to simplify the facts by blaming the government.

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Given Firey's careful reading and adaptation of my article to his purposes, it's somewhat amazing that he then manages to somehow completely misread or ignore the point of my article when he states that: "increasing current workers' income will not solve Washington County's affordable housing problem." At no point did I suggest that raising current workers' wages would solve the problem. I specifically stated: "Here are the facts: the EDC is failing to attract new businesses with high paying jobs." How much clearer could I be? New businesses with competitive wages are the only way to begin to have an impact on the current situation.

While Firey says that criticism of local government and the EDC is misplaced, he conveniently fails to answer any of the criticisms. Not responding to the facts that both job growth and wage growth fail to keep up with statewide averages, doesn't change them. That Washington County is failing in its efforts isn't Washington D.C.'s fault, even though Firey would like us to believe that it is.

Finally, Fiery offers us two dispiriting suggestions: Workers should retrain themselves for jobs that don't exist and wait until the economy collapses to buy a house. In other words, the whole thing is your problem. You aren't skilled enough for a good job and your only hope is another Great Depression. Cheerful thoughts on a Sunday morning.

I believe otherwise. As I said in my May 31 response to Doug Wright, all those new jobs are going somewhere, just not to Washington County. No individual worker can convince Quad Printing to move here. No single worker is going to affect the decision of Garden State Tanning to maintain its operation in Washington County. That's why we elect commissioners and have an EDC. Unfortunately, when they don't do their job, it's the workers' jobs that suffer. That's what local government is about - serving the local people. And that's where the individual's real responsibility is in making sure that local government serves local needs.

So, if you want to join Firey in blaming Washington for our housing problems, then don't expect them to get solved. If you want to look to where the real responsibility is, look to Washington Street in Hagerstown.

John Colson is a resident of Hagerstown.

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