EDC shouldn't need a study to know its role

December 12, 2011

If we had a nickel for every consultant study ordered up by local governments over the years, we could probably pay cash for this latest proposal to study the state of economic development in Washington County.

The board of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission is proposing to spend $125,000 to gaze into the navel of the local commercial scene and figure out the answers to questions such as (their words, not ours) “where are we?” and “what direction should we go?”

This sounds ominously like Ross Perot’s vice presidential candidate Admiral Stockdale as he fumbled for his political reason-for-being with the memorable phrase, “Who am I? Why am I here?”

It is startling to us that an EDC that has been around all these years and spent all these millions of taxpayer dollars over the decades would not already know the answers to these basic questions.

What are they doing if not asking (and answering) these questions every day of the week?

That board members believe these questions need to be asked anew leads us to suspect some major structural failing at all levels of economic planning county and citywide.

As such, we could almost support such an extravagant expense, under two conditions: One, the city and county would be largely bound by the consultant’s recommendations.

This county has a bad habit of paying prodigious sums of money for consultant studies, and then putting them on the shelf to gather dust, when local officials don’t like what the consultants have to say.

Two, the consultant study should be charged with outlining a consolidation of all the city and county, public and private, economic-development agencies at a cost savings to the taxpayers of at least the price of the consultant study itself.

There can be little doubt that our multiplicity of local development agencies has worked against us, as different groups promote different agendas. Let’s end it, and have one agency with one central mission beneficial to all jurisdictions — at a far lower cost to taxpayers.

If the EDC isn’t keen on these conditions, we would again have to ask what this study is for, and why must it come from outside county offices. We have a well-paid, professional staff at the EDC whose job it is to know where we are and where we are going.

So is this a de facto vote of no confidence in the staff?

With the recent personality conflicts and the resignation of the EDC board chairwoman, there’s no shortage of drama in the EDC’s offices these days, and while we might be able to afford frivolous palace intrigue during good economic times, the slow recovery and high unemployment rate require that all hands be on deck working toward the same goal.

By all appearances, it’s not the county’s economic climate that needs to be studied so much as the economic-development agencies themselves. The EDC is asking the County Commissioners to pay $75,000 of the consultant’s bill, but at this point in time we urge the county to reject the appeal. There is no sense paying for a mission unless we know that we have an EDC that is capable of carrying that mission out.

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