Brad Sell and Meg Harsh: SCIP focus group sets its sights on economic growth

May 27, 2012|By BRAD SELL and MEG HARSH

The United Way and Community Foundation of Washington County are writing monthly columns in The Herald-Mail to keep the Strategic Community Impact Plan (SCIP) process in the forefront of the community’s conscience and to report on the progress that is being made toward the SCIP goals. We are pleased to report that the community is engaged. 

With all of the talk in the community recently about economic development and jobs, we felt it was timely to reconsider the goal that was established by the SCIP Jobs and Economic Development Focus Group. This group was composed of representatives from the following organizations: Chamber of Commerce, County Economic Development Commission, Hagerstown Economic Development Commission, HCC Technical Innovation Center, Small Business Development Center, Western Maryland Consortium, Greater Hagerstown Committee, Meritus Health System, Citi, Horizon Goodwill, CHIEF and PNC Bank, as well as private citizens.

This focus group discussed many areas of interest but finally agreed that job creation by small business was the priority. The group decided on the following vision for this topic: All private, public and nonprofit entities are working together to promote and support coordinated, small-business development resources in Washington County for job creation.

The following goal was established: Create jobs in Washington County through small-business creation and expansion.

The specific strategy agreed upon was: To create a Small Business and Entrepreneurial Resource Center (SBERC), the major functions of which will include:

• Programs and services.

• Developing programs to meet business needs that promote private-sector economic activities.

• Serving as a collection point for all economic and jobs data in the county and current inventory of employer needs.

• Researching and applying for grant(s) that lead to or create private-sector jobs.

• Creating expertise in sector-specific areas of development.

• Recruiting and maintaining an entrepreneurial advisors network, a technical expertise network and a loaned executive network.

• Marketing and outreach.

• Creating broad-based community support for entrepreneurs and small business.

• Creating an “angel” investor process and “entrepreneurial/small business loan fund.”

• Advocating for policies and processes that support entrepreneurs and small-business development.

• Identifying business needs.

• Identifying issues or initiatives that require mutual cooperation.

• Promoting entrepreneurism among high school and college students.

• Organizational integration.

• Monitoring and coordinating activities of all economic development organizations in Washington County.

• Facilitating communication between and among agencies to avoid duplication of effort.

• Creating or facilitating cooperative research and development agreements between private industry and small firms.

• Creating and maintaining links in a one-stop entrepreneurial/small-business website.

The focus group members felt that a new, independent 501(c)(3) would be in a better position to work with all of the existing agencies and organizations involved in economic development to coordinate activities and provide services to entrepreneurs at all levels. Plus, a nonprofit would be better positioned to apply for grants from private foundations, both local and national.

As you can see, many of the issues and suggestions being bandied about today are addressed by this particular SCIP goal. In light of the recent developments, we will be attempting to revive and expand our focus group, with the goal of making the Small Business and Entrepreneurial Resource Center a reality.

As you can see by this and by previous examples, the SCIP initiative has fostered the engagement of other nonprofits, private funders, governmental agencies and the faith community in addressing the important needs that exist in Washington County, as identified in the Strategic Community Impact Plan. Everyone has a role in creating positive change in Washington County and we look forward to working with you to make it happen.

Brad Sell is executive director of the Community Foundation of Washington County and Meg Harsh is board chair of United Way of Washington County.

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