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Economic official discusses business statistics of area

April 06, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HALFWAY - As a meeting point for two interstate highways, Washington County is well-known as a distribution hub.

Yet, last year, "58 percent of the new jobs were tied to manufacturing," Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Timothy Troxell said Wednesday morning at a breakfast speech. "We are far more manufacturing-oriented than the rest of the state."

Speaking to a group of business and government leaders at the Plaza Hotel in Halfway, Troxell said there were 1,848 new jobs announced in the county last year. About 1,000 jobs left, for a net gain of 881.

Private entities invested $80.7 million in the county last year and worked to construct about 700,000 square feet of nonresidential building space, Troxell said.

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As examples, he mentioned:

· Americom Government Services, a satellite telecommunications company moving to a 30,000-square-foot building off Md. 144

· Builders FirstSource, which opened a wall panel manufacturing plant on South Burhans Boulevard

· Staples, which spent $10.4 million to add 180,000 square feet to its distribution center on Hopewell Road

· Sierra Nevada Corp., a defense contractor that moved into four buildings at Hagerstown Regional Airport.

Asked later how well the new jobs pay, Troxell said in a phone message that for about 1,200 to 1,300 of the jobs, the average wage is $18.87 an hour - or close to $40,000 a year.

Warehouse distribution jobs pay less than that average, manufacturing jobs pay about "middle to high" and engineering-type jobs pay "very high" compared to the average, he said.

During his speech, Troxell said the EDC's short-term target industries are plastics manufacturing, wireless telecommunications, and research and development services.

In the longer range, the EDC is targeting satellite telecommunications, aeronautical systems manufacturing and installation, biotech and life sciences, and government- and defense-related contracting.

Troxell explained behind-the-scenes efforts to bring businesses to the county and keep them here.

One EDC committee looks at infrastructure, particularly water and sewer capacity and road improvements.

Another looks at tax exemptions and tries to get local governments to work with each other. Troxell said the EDC helped start the 2+2 Committee of two Hagerstown City Council members and two Washington County commissioners.

A Workforce Development Committee is involved in a program for school teachers to do "externships" at local businesses and create curricula based on their experiences.

Troxell said other EDC projects include a study on the 16,000-plus people who leave Washington County each day to work somewhere else and an underemployment study on people qualified for jobs that pay better than the ones they have now.

New businesses always ask about the county's unemployment rate, but "when they come to town, it's rare that they hire people from the ranks of the unemployed," he said.

Troxell's speech on economic development was part of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's "Eggs & Issues" series.

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