On Tuesday, the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission hosted a festive dinner, celebrating milestone anniversaries of dozens of local businesses.
After picking up plaques, honorees posed for keepsake photos with EDC Executive Director Timothy R. Troxell.
The next morning, Troxell was told he was being dismissed from his job.
County officials have declined to talk specifically about Troxell’s departure, calling it a personnel issue.
But some Washington County commissioners said they’re looking forward to a stronger approach to economic development.
In particular, Commissioners Ruth Anne Callaham and William B. McKinley expressed interest in doing more for small businesses.
“I don’t believe we’ve had the connection with small business,” McKinley said.
Troxell was the EDC’s executive director for 10 years, after four years as assistant director.
On Friday, his last day on the job, Troxell said he wasn’t ready to comment until next week.
County spokeswoman Sarah Lankford Sprecher said there’s been no decision about who, if anyone, will take over as executive director.
Robin L. Ferree is the EDC’s deputy director.
Troxell’s salary was $101,406, according to Sprecher.
Troxell’s dismissal is the second public EDC upheaval since the county appointed three new commission members last year.
In November, Shelby H. Penn resigned as EDC chairwoman, alleging that new appointee Ronald Bowers was overzealous and obstructionist.
At the time, Penn said the new appointees were “accusing the staff of not doing their jobs, and that is not the case,” which was hurting morale.
When he was appointed, Bowers said “the luster’s worn off the doorknobs of the EDC office” and presented a long list of ideas for improvement, including a dedicated small-business advocate.
Bowers didn’t return calls for comment on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Troxell was scheduled to lead a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce Eggs & Issues forum on the county’s economic development on May 2.
Chamber President Brien J. Poffenberger said he talked to county officials about holding the program with another speaker. As of Friday afternoon, nothing had been decided.
Poffenberger said he and Troxell worked “hand in glove” for several years as the chamber and EDC leaders. EDC helped bring new businesses to the area, and the chamber helped them thrive, Poffenberger said.
On Thursday, Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development spokeswoman Karen Glenn Hood wrote in an email: “Tim Troxell has been a valued partner with our Department. Over the years, we have worked with him and the Hagerstown-Washington County EDC on a number of significant business deals, including VT Industries, Lehigh Phoenix and others, to bring jobs to the State and Washington County and spur economic development. We wish him well.”
Counting Troxell’s departure, at least six of Maryland’s 23 counties have changed EDC leadership within the past two years or so, according to Hood.
Some big misses
Recently, Washington County was in the running but failed to get some major projects, most notably a 1.3-million-square-foot Macy’s fulfillment center that ended up in Berkeley County, W.Va.
During a Quad State Legislative Conference last year, Troxell said Berkeley County had lower land prices, and Washington County had trouble finding a parcel large enough.
At the same conference, Troxell said one of Washington County’s recent successes was a Recovery Zone Facility Bonds program using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money.
After reaching its allotment of $14 million of tax-exempt private financing for projects worth at least $3 million, the county was given another $5 million to distribute. Those projects created more than 200 new jobs, Troxell said at the time.
This week, Callaham recalled a declaration by Maryland’s secretary of business and economic development, Christian S. Johansson, that small business will determine the state’s economic future.
The Washington County Board of Commissioners is taking that idea seriously and making it a focus, Callaham said.
Commissioner Jeffrey A. Cline said the county should be both recruiting new businesses and helping existing ones.
He mentioned the Macy’s project and a Norfolk Southern rail-truck project that ended up in Greencastle, Pa.
Asked if it was Maryland or Washington County that fell short in those cases, Cline said it was a combination.
McKinley said Maryland’s regulatory atmosphere makes it tough to attract industry, but, for those large projects, he wasn’t sure what to think.
“They don’t always tell us why they’re going to other places, so we end up speculating,” he said.
Terry Baker, the president of the commissioners, declined to say anything about the EDC other than the commissioners will talk more about the situation “in the weeks and months to come.”
Callaham and Cline said the timing of the news about Troxell, the day after the EDC awards dinner, was a coincidence.
“I don’t know if there’s ever a good time” for that type of action, McKinley said.
State Del. Neil C. Parrott, who attended the dinner, looked at the juxtaposition of events differently. He said he was glad the county waited until after the dinner to remove Troxell, giving him a chance to celebrate the last year of local business along with everyone else.