Commissioners' business plan on right track

September 15, 2011

With jobs on everyone’s mind, the Washington County Commissioners have approved a little economic stimulus of their own, eliminating or easing some of the stumbling blocks that can come between business and new construction.

The two-year program was designed by the Economic Development Commission to turn vacant industrial land into “pad ready” condition by prioritizing plan reviews and deferring county fees. The breaks would not apply to retail centers, theoretically targeting companies that might bring with them higher quality jobs.

We support the action of the EDC and commissioners in their attempt to streamline the process, considering that in today’s business climate, any potential hold-up might be a deal-breaker. Competition for new companies is undoubtedly cut-throat across the nation.

EDC Director Tim Troxell used the example of a 12-acre industrial parcel that will cost up to $8,000 just to get it to the point where it can be built upon. The pricey preliminaries can include review fees for stormwater management, grading, sensitive-area study and site plans.

Under the county stimulus, these fees would be deferred until the filing of a building-permit application. The stimulus would also prevent minor site changes from holding up the project and provide a real estate tax credit. These are good changes that come at little or no cost to the county.

Of course two elephants in the room have all but forced the commissioners to act — one being the massive Norfolk Southern complex in Franklin County, Pa., and the second being Macy’s in Berkeley County, W.Va.

Although we like to say that a new company anywhere in the Cumberland Valley benefits all three states, the failure to land either of these desirable projects was a significant black eye for Washington County’s EDC. As Commissioner Jeff Cline put it, “We’re losing to the north and south of us; we’re not competitive.”

We agree, and we would also take it a step further. It’s not just the monolithic companies that we need to court. We need to be friendly to small shops as well, the kind that might only employ between one and 10 workers. It should be easy for someone to start out in business, not a headache.

As such, we would encourage the commissioners to look at all county regulations and fees and find ways to smooth the process and reduce the cost of doing business.

Times have changed, and we can no longer afford to be indifferent to businesses, large or small, that will offer our people work. There is no need to go into the litany of horror stories we hear about Washington County’s permitting process as a whole, but anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the system understands that change is called for.

For a long time, a lot of governments have acted as if they were doing business a favor by allowing it to settle within its boundaries. It was an arrogance, almost, an arrogance borne of surplus. As more jobs have gone overseas, however, that surplus and the luxury of being choosy no longer exists.

A new day has come, one in which the phrase “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” doesn’t generate a laugh.

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