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Washington County manufacturing sector should hold its own, despite recent closings, says Troxell

April 03, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

A nationwide reduction in manufacturing jobs has been reflected locally in the recent closings of Rayloc in Hancock and Fujicolor in Williamsport.

But local economic leaders aren't ready to close the door on the industry, which has long been a dominant sector in Washington County's workforce.

"You're seeing that slowdown across the country, but at the same time we're adding manufacturing jobs. I think overall, we will tend to sort of hold our own," said Timothy R. Troxell, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

Troxell spoke at Wednesday's Eggs and Issues, a monthly talk held by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

He highlighted the local growth in manufacturing, which in 2007 accounted for 27 percent of new jobs in Washington County.

Troxell noted that companies such as Cinetic Landis Corp., which is relocating its manufacturing and assembling facility to Newgate Industrial Park, and Sierra Nevada, a defense contractor at Hagerstown Regional Airport that added about 200 jobs last year, are helping to keep manufacturing alive in Washington County.

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He also acknowledged that manufacturing, which accounts for 12 percent of the county's workforce, is not what it once was and said the county must diversify its industries to stay competitive.

Troxell said projects like the biotechnology business incubator at Hagerstown Community College and the redevelopment of the former Fort Ritchie Army base will bring high wage, technical jobs to Washington County.

"We're being proactive, trying to draw those jobs here so we can compete with the areas around us," Troxell said.

The college recently finished its biotechnology wet labs, which will be leased out to private firms.

HCC President Guy Altieri said Tuesday it is expected that all 11 wet labs will be leased by June.

The redevelopment of Fort Ritchie is expected to create 4,500 new jobs, many of which will be in the defense contracting industry, Troxell said.

Troxell noted that competition to draw new businesses is stiff along the Interstate 81 corridor, which is only 12.5 miles long through Washington County. That means when companies consider moving to Washington County, they think about West Virginia and Pennsylvania, too.

"We compete on every project," Troxell said.

County initiatives such as enterprise and trade zones near the airport that provide tax benefits for companies and the fast-track permit process for economic development projects have helped make Washington County more attractive than surrounding areas.

"Typically, we're not the cheapest location, but our ability to get people in the ground has won us several projects," Troxell said.

In 2007, 43 new business projects were announced and 1,300 jobs were created in Washington County, Troxell said.

In addition, $132 million of capital investment and 1.4 million square feet of new commercial construction.

The average wage in Washington County rose 4.2 percent to $16.83 per hour.

However, the county's 4.6-percent unemployment rate is more than a percentage point higher than the state average of 3.4 percent.

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