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Business investment up 62% in county

May 06, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Despite the tough economy, 2008 was a record year for capital investments in Washington County by businesses, Timothy R. Troxell, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, said Wednesday at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

Companies made more than $212 million worth of capital investments in the county last year, up about 62 percent from 2007, Troxell said.

Projects announced in 2008 included Volvo Powertrain's $50 million investment in engine block machining, a $43 million FedEx Freight terminal on Md. 63, and a $25 million expansion to FedEx Ground's shipping hub on Newgate Boulevard.

The downside, given the county's high unemployment rate, is many companies are more capital-focused than labor-focused, Troxell said.

"Right now, companies seem reluctant to do a lot of hiring because of the way the economy is," he said.

Still, the county added more new jobs last year than it lost, Troxell said. The county gained 1,360 new jobs in 2008 and lost 1,055, for a net gain of 305, Troxell said. The EDC does not have data on the salaries of the jobs lost versus the new jobs, he said.

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Most of the new jobs were in the transportation and warehousing or manufacturing industries, Troxell said.

This year got off to a good start with an announcement in February that T. Rowe Price Group Inc. would build a $75 million backup data-recovery center in Washington County, with county and state incentives, Troxell said.

Since then, economic development activity has slowed, but "there are still prospects out there," he said.

In June, Troxell plans to attend the Paris Air Show, the world's largest air and space trade show, where there are a couple of companies he hopes to talk to about potential development opportunities in Washington County, he said.

Hagerstown Regional Airport, with its recent runway expansion, already has proven to be a magnet for aerospace and defense firms, some of which are growing rapidly, Troxell said.

Sierra Nevada Corp., which modifies aircraft for the Department of Defense and other agencies, has pumped more than $60 million into the county in the past four years and now ranks as one of the county's top 15 employers, with about 600 employees, Troxell said.

Troxell's PowerPoint presentation included a quote from Hal Lucas, director of integrated aviation systems at Sierra Nevada's Hagerstown operation, saying Hagerstown's location and infrastructure make it an "ideal place to conduct top-secret work for the government."

The EDC also is working hard to attract biotechnology companies, Troxell said.

Toward that end, the EDC has worked with county planning officials to suggest new zoning district designations better tailored to biotechnology and other research firms, he said.

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