Newly appointed to the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, former county commissioner Ronald Bowers said he wants to help reinvent the panel's approach to attracting and supporting businesses.
"The luster's worn off the doorknobs of the EDC office," Bowers said, stressing the need for what he called the "four Es — enthusiasm, excitement, eagerness and exhilaration."
Bowers is one of three new members who will join the 12-member EDC board of directors beginning July 1.
Daniel Pheil, president and chief executive officer of Cinetic Landis Corp., and Andrew Sargent, director of business development at Trust Development and Management LLC, have also been recently appointed.
While Pheil and Sargent both expressed eagerness to contribute what they could to the county agency, Bowers bounded into the position with a long checklist of ideas and catchphrases to support them.
"Our economic development engine hasn't kept up with modern times," he said in an interview at The Herald-Mail after being sworn in to the position at the Washington County Courthouse earlier this month. "What would happen if Mack had kept the engine of 1990 or 2000 and not kept up with new technology?"
Bowers said his ideas for the EDC include the need for a new logo, the creation of a dedicated small-business advocate and a summit between the EDC and the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, known as CHIEF, to refocus the two organizations and maximize their potential to work together for economic development.
Bowers said the EDC's "Crossroads of Commerce" marketing approach and crossed roads logo, which focus on the area's position at the intersection of interstates 70 and 81, do not capture everything the county has to offer.
"We've talked about warehousing in the past, and it's been a good thing, but what do we have to promote now?" he said. "Look at the college; look at the University (System) of Maryland (campus) downtown; look at the No. 1 educational system in the state."
Economic development is nothing new for Bowers, who, in addition to serving four consecutive terms as a commissioner, has been involved with the Maryland Economic Development Corp., or MEDCO, a private corporation established by the state to help finance economic development projects.
Bowers is retired from Volvo Powertrain North America and has also served in the U.S. Army Reserve and worked as a Realtor.
"In all honesty, I have been asked countless numbers of times to get involved in economic development, to bring a spark to economic development," Bowers said. "There will be those detractors that say, 'Here he comes again. Here he bounces back up again. Here he comes making these recommendations and talking about things.'"
But Bowers said after some time away from the economic development scene he is able to see the county's needs with fresh eyes.
Sargent eyes employers
Asked about Bowers' recommendations, both Sargent and Pheil said they sounded like good ideas.
"I look forward to getting involved, but I don't have enough experience directly with the EDC to know if those are directions that ought to be taken right away," Sargent said.
Sargent said he has been interested in the EDC since he arrived in Hagerstown about six years ago and quickly came to admire the creativity of EDC Executive Director Timothy R. Troxell and Deputy Director Robin L. Ferree.
"I've always been very intrigued about how they operated and what they do, and I was obviously honored to be appointed to the commission," Sargent said.
He said he considers himself a people person and hopes to contribute negotiation skills to the EDC, with a focus on increasing opportunities to bring large employers to the county.
Pheil, who holds a Bachelor of the Arts in economics, said he thought he could contribute valuable perspective to the EDC because he had "been through the process" of deciding to locate his business in the county.
Cinetic Landis, a French-owned global manufacturer of precision grinding systems, moved to Hagerstown from Waynesboro, Pa., in 2008.
Pheil said the EDC — and particularly its fast-track program for permitting and local approvals — were very helpful during that move.
He said he would like to see the EDC do more to promote the achievements of the local school system and the skills of the local workforce.
Pheil said he saw Bowers' point that the county has more to promote than its location at the cross-section of two interstate highways.
"That's obviously a geographic advantage and shouldn't be discarded, but I think there's more here," he said.
Pheil said he thought the EDC already does advocate for small business and works well with CHIEF.
"When we moved here, EDC and CHIEF worked hand-in-hand with us," he said. "It was a very coordinated effort."
He said CHIEF helped the company find affordable land, which was the "final piece of the puzzle" and a significant influence on the decision to move to Hagerstown.
The appointments of Bowers, Sargent and Pheil were approved by the Washington County Board of Commissioners May 3 along with a reappointment of Stuart Mullendore to a second term on the EDC.
Bowers will replace Gary Davis as an at-large representative, Pheil will replace Richard Seibert as a Greater Hagerstown Committee representative, and Sargent will replace Timothy Henry as a chamber of commerce representative, according to an EDC news release.
All will serve three-year terms.