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Study proposes changes to Washington County Economic Development Commission

January 26, 2013|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com
  • Kenneth Creveling, president of Urbanomics Inc., addressed the local city and county business people Saturday morning at the Maryland Theatre.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

One of many recommendations in an economic development strategic plan for Washington County is to explore privatizing the county’s Economic Development Commission and merging it with other “allied organizations.”

A review of the executive summary of the plan covered a lot of territory during a presentation exceeding three hours Saturday at The Maryland Theatre, identifying strengths and weaknesses in the economy and outlining five-year plans.

“You need to evaluate whether the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission approach ... helps put the best foot forward for Washington County in terms of organizing and promoting economic development,” said Kenneth Creveling, president of Urbanomics Inc., a Florida consulting firm.

“The existing EDC is essentially a county-level department” with private-sector involvement, said Creveling, who did the study with Leak-Goforth, a North Carolina consulting firm.

“A county-level department ... seems to be the typical format in Maryland,” he told the more than 50 elected and appointed government officials and business people at the theater.

Another option would be a solely private organization, driven by regional and local chambers of commerce, Creveling said.

A third option is a private-public partnership in the form of a nonprofit corporation, Creveling said.

“It’s been our experience that the private-public partnership works most effectively,” Creveling said. It would create an entity largely separate of government and allow access to more sources of funding, such as private contributions and foundation grants, he said.

A corporation also could develop loan programs for startups and small businesses, Creveling said.

Creveling cited the Franklin County (Pa.) Area Development Corporation as an example.

“A private-public partnership can act more like a private business,” he said.

“I don’t know how I feel about that yet,” County Commissioner William B. McKinley said afterward. “I don’t know what the positives and negatives are ... but I think it deserves more study.”

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said she was interested in the idea of restructuring the commission as a way to “kick-start it and get it going really well.”

The idea is something to “really dig into and see what we can do,” said Stuart Mullendore, who headed up the Economic Development Commission’s Strategic Plan Task Force.

Though the EDC has not had an executive director for months, its staff has continued to perform its work, including providing help in the strategic plan, Mullendore said.

The report also recommended exploring a merger of Hagerstown’s economic development marketing activities, personnel and budget into the corporation, and expanding the board to include members from the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, Greater Hagerstown Committee and the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Expanded collaborations between an economic development entity and the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation (CHIEF) and Hagerstown Community College also were suggested.

Moving an economic development corporation’s offices to a downtown site near allied organizations also was suggested in the plan.

The Economic Development Commission has reviewed the plan in detail and its comments were incorporated into the final report, Creveling said. The EDC will consider adopting it, develop a “tactical plan for implementation” and then forward that to the Board of County Commissioners for its adoption, he said.

The full 80-page report has a five-year plan for reorganizing the EDC, beginning with the county authorizing the creation of a corporation. If that’s approved, the EDC staff and board would continue in their current roles during the transition.

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