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County advised to hire ag marketer

November 30, 2005|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A task force has recommended the Washington County Commissioners hire a full-time specialist to promote the county's agricultural industry, a move members say would help keep the county's more than 700 farms in business.

"Hundreds of farms have been lost during the past two decades ... The need for the continued organized promotion of Washington County's agriculture is clear," the task force's draft business plan states.

But with a price tag of $95,000 and uncertainty over whether an agricultural marketing specialist would work, some County Commissioners were cool to the idea of creating the position.

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The $95,000 includes an annual salary range of $40,000 to $60,000, Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said. It also includes benefits, a computer, cell phone, telephone, $5,000 for mileage and a $25,000 marketing budget.

"I understand and I feel that we need to do something ... I'm not 100 percent sold." Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said. "It looks like it's a hybrid-type job."

A job description included with the commissioners' meeting agenda states the specialist position would be a "professional position responsible for developing, organizing and implementing marketing programs to attract, retain and grow the agriculture industry and related business."

The minimum education and experience requirements are a bachelor of science degree with an agriculture-related major and four years of experience in agricultural business development and marketing, according to information handed out at the commissioners meeting. Graduate work could be considered toward the experience requirement.

The commissioners created the task force, known as the Washington County Agricultural Marketing Specialist Task Force, on Feb. 22 after the position was pitched by the Washington County Farm Bureau.

While no specific information was included in the draft business plan about the county's agricultural economy, it states a "critical need is felt for the promotion of these agri-businesses."

"Helping farmers obtain a greater profitability, and achieve added value for their agri-businesses will assist in the continued viability of the agricultural character of Washington County," the draft plan states.

Tom Riford, president and CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the agency is willing to contribute $5,000 toward costs for the position.

Riford said the specialist would be important for the county's agricultural industry and tourism.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell asked if the Convention and Visitors Bureau would consider contributing more than $5,000, but Riford said any more than that would be difficult.

If the position is created, Commissioner John C. Munson said he feared farmers would perceive it as the government trying to tell them what to do with their farms.

Munson also said he thought those in the agricultural industry already knew how to run and promote their farms.

"You're not giving the farmers the credit they deserve," Munson said. "I think they're smart enough to know how to do it theirself."

Munson also said he would like written correspondence from farmers voicing their support for the position.

Priscilla Harsh of the Farm Bureau said she would gather the information Munson requested.

Harsh said many farmers back hiring an agricultural marketing specialist.

"It may be a worthwhile position, but I'm not convinced yet," Munson said.

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