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EDC leaders in Tri-State have variety of approaches to attract businesses

March 18, 2013|By DON AINES and C.J. LOVELACE | dona@herald-mail.com and cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Mike Ross is president of the Franklin County Area Development Corporation in Chambersburg, Pa.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Editor’s note: This is one in an occasional series of stories on findings and recommendations in The Hagerstown and Washington County Economic Development Strategic Plan.

What ran Sunday: Will the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission be restructured or remain as it is?


Economic development leaders in the Tri-State area say a variety of factors goes into creating the perception of a business-friendly environment and they have approaches to attract businesses that are tailored to their counties and the needs of clients.

When it comes to attracting new businesses, “a lot of it is perception,” said Mike Ross, president of the Franklin County (Pa.) Area Development Corp. “The perception we hear is that Maryland has a more regulatory climate than Pennsylvania or West Virginia.”

“We’ll drop subtle hints that we’re more business-friendly than Maryland,” Ross joked.

“If we prepare and control attractive industrial sites and industrial parks, we position ourselves to be more attractive” to investments by large corporations, said Stephen Christian, executive director of the Berkeley County (W.Va.) Development Authority. The authority owns two industrial parks, the Cumbo Yard Industrial Park and the Tabler Station Business Park.

A lot of factors go into the perception — or reality — of a community’s business climate, Ross said. As an example, he cited Interstate 81, which runs for about a dozen miles in Washington County, as opposed to 26 miles in Franklin and Berkeley counties.

Many companies moving to the Quad-State area have a transportation component, such as the Norfolk Southern Intermodal Facility operating near Exit 3 in Antrim Township, Pa., Ross said.

“What we can tell them is we have 2,000 acres within a mile of Exit 3, Exit 14 and Exit 24 with the zoning and infrastructure for development,” he said.

Looking at the tax structure in the region between Frederick County, Va., and Franklin County, Pa., along the I-81 corridor, there might not be a significant difference, but an industry sector might be subject to a tax in one state that is not imposed in another, Ross said.

Helen Riddle, department manager of the Frederick County Business Development and Retention Department, said there are challenges in just convincing businesses to locate in Maryland.

“I have talked to some of our commercial real estate agents, and they say one of the hardest hurdles in selling Frederick is actually selling Maryland,” she said. “And once we can get the business to buy into Maryland, then we get them to Frederick (County) and they love us. Then it kind of rolls.”

The state’s tax structure for businesses is believed to be one of the main culprits, Riddle said, although she said governments are going to get their money “one way or another,” so sometimes comparing Maryland to neighboring states can be like “apples and oranges.”

“We may not have a business personal property tax. They may have a higher sales tax,” she said. “Whatever it is — sometimes it’s hard to compare Maryland to Virginia or Maryland to Pennsylvania.”

The City of Frederick’s vibrant downtown has been a big selling point to companies looking to locate in the county, Riddle said.

Tax incentives are another tool that states, counties and communities offer, Ross said. West Virginia has been particularly aggressive in its incentive programs, he said.

Antrim Township has a Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance program, a break on real estate taxes for businesses making improvements to their facilities that is phased in over a period of years, Ross said. That was a major factor in retaining World Kitchen and its 400 jobs in Antrim Township, as well as the company deciding to make millions of dollars in improvements to a 1 million-square-foot operation.

Had World Kitchen moved to Hagerstown or Carlisle, Pa., Ross said, that empty half-century-old facility would have been difficult to market.

Helping companies navigate the bureaucracy is also important, Christian said.

“We try to create a path of least resistance for an industry that is willing to take a risk and make an investment ... to expedite and simplify the permitting and development process,” Christian said.

Christian said it has been his experience that big companies such as Macy’s are working on increasingly short time frames and want to get a project approved and under construction “without fear of delay.”

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