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Washington County prepares for strategic economic development plan

April 30, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Preparations are moving along for a “strategic economic development plan” for Washington County.

A $50,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant for the project has been approved, and economic development officials are in the process of selecting a contractor to develop the plan, though they do not yet know how much it will cost, said Hal Lucas, chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

Nineteen companies submitted proposals for the project, Lucas said.

The plan will include an in-depth review of the county’s strengths and weaknesses, an assessment of competition in surrounding jurisdictions and development of a set of key strategies in facilitating economic growth in the region, according to a press release from U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin announcing the grant approval.

A multiagency project, the plan is meant to coordinate the work of the EDC, municipalities and organizations such as the Greater Hagerstown Committee and the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, or CHIEF, officials have said.

CHIEF is responsible for awarding the contract to develop the plan.

The $50,000 ARC grant is one of two major funding sources for the project. Another $50,000 will come from a grant from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, Lucas said.

In December, EDC strategic planning task force chairman Stuart Mullendore asked the Board of County Commissioners to contribute funds for the project, estimated at $125,000, but the commissioners said they wanted to see if the $100,000 in grants would be enough before discussing whether to chip in money from the county’s hotel-motel tax fund.

Lucas said those evaluating the proposals had not yet opened the price portion of the proposals.

First, they will narrow the proposals to the two or three best, then they will look at the costs of those and choose the one that represents the “best value,” factoring in cost and the quality of the proposal, he said.

“We’ve had a tremendous response with some terrific proposals,” Lucas said. “Companies have sent us hundreds of pages of response.”

So far, reviewers have narrowed the proposals to about six, he said.

If the three top-quality proposals are all too expensive, “we’ll look at the next group down, and so on,” he said.

Lucas said the contract would probably be awarded in the next couple of months, and the project would likely take six to eight months.

“The bottom line is, if we’re going to shoot to bring in more business to the county and increase the level of business in the county, you’ve got to know where you’re starting from and what you’re working with,” Lucas said. “Everyone thinks they know that, but it turns out we’ve never looked across the breadth and width of the county to evaluate the assets — what’s attractive to outside business, what appeals — so you get a full, broad-spectrum look at where we are.”

In the press release about the ARC grant, Cardin called the funds “much-needed” and said they would “create jobs and further economic development in Washington County,” and Mikulski said it would “help grow Washington County’s economy, making smart investments and attracting new businesses and creating jobs.”

“The ARC is a federal-state partnership that works with the people of Appalachia to create opportunities for self-sustaining economic development and improved quality of life,” the release said.

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