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Health care can be big economic player

October 08, 2006|by Linn Hendershot

Bringing more and better jobs to Washington County must be a priority for the next group of county commissioners. Before we even start to discus the issue of jobs, we need to make it very clear that there isn't a silver bullet to easily get the task accomplished.

I would like to divide what I feel the Washington County Economic Development Commission's direction should be into short-term and long-term goals.

According to the EDC staff, the EDC will work to attract businesses in the plastics manufacturing industry, scientific research and development services and wireless telecommunications.

In addition to these limited target industries, the EDC has long-term business recruitment goals. Those include companies involved in biotechnology/life sciences, satellite telecommunications, search, detection, navigation, guidance, aeronautical and nautical system and instrument manufacturing and defense-related contractor activity.

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When you review the goals, you first feel warm and fuzzy about what we're attempting to do, but after closer review, the overall impact on the citizens of Washington County is minimal at best in the short term.

This is not the fault of the EDC staff, with a little over a half-million-dollar annual budget and a staff of six. If we're going to do the task that the EDC was charged to accomplish, I will, as your commissioner, increase this budget and give the EDC the support and funding it needs to get the job done.

As your Washington County Commissioner, I will encourage our EDC to work closely with the economic development organizations in neighboring counties in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia to better work together to attract national firms to become better aware of the many advantages of locating in the quad-state area.

I will encourage the Washington County Public School system, Hagerstown Community College, the University System of Maryland and Hagerstown Business College to work closely with the EDC to better prepare our citizens for job opportunities available in the quad state.

HCC is a great example of what can be done by thinking beyond our county borders, when it started a truck driving training program to take advantage of the current national demand for truck drivers and owner-operators.

More and more companies are locating in the Hagerstown-Martinsburg-Chambersburg areas with large freight depot operations because the cost of freight distribution is less from this geographic area of our nation. Instead of shunning the freight industry, as many of our current leaders have, why not embrace the opportunity? With the facilities we have at the Hagerstown Regional Airport, should we be talking more seriously with the UPS, Federal Express and other freight carriers of the world? I certainly think so.

Another category of jobs that needs to be addressed nationally and without question, locally, deals with the incredible shortage of health-care providers.

Why not take a page from the Winchester, Va., health-care book, thereby utilizing its old health-care facility and partnering with Shenandoah University to train respiratory therapists and other health-care specialists, they became an important piece of fulfilling the needs of the health-care puzzle.

The USM project is floundering at best due to a lack of identity from any of its state affiliated colleges and universities. With a broader Washington County economic development vision, a little old-fashioned common sense and lots of hard work from our county leadership, I know we can realize a dramatic turnaround in the next four years that will establish our area as a hub for health-care education in the eastern part of our country.

HBC is about to become a four-year school and change its name to Kaplan College. They offer certification programs for nursing assistants, medical records and related fields. HCC already offer nursing and other related health-care courses at an extremely reasonable cost to its students.

Maybe it's time to sit down around the table with the educational community, inject some funding from the Washington County EDC, local health-care providers and the health-care supplier vendors in the form of scholarship assistance and develop a plan utilizing the resources we already have in place.

A little change in focus by our County Commissioners would make a dramatic change in the career opportunities of our Washington County citizens and our nearby neighbors.

N. Linn Hendershot is a candidate for Washington County Commissioner.

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