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City officials discuss economic development priorities

March 19, 2013|By HOLLY SHOK | holly.shok@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — Convincing the Washington County Board of Education to relocate downtown, attracting a four-year higher education institution and developing a theme for City Center were among recurring recommendations of Hagerstown officials Tuesday in a discussion of priorities for economic development.

Along with eight other municipalities as well as private organizations and public entities in Washington County, the city was asked to list priorities for strategic economic development to the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission by the end of this month.

While city staff compiled a list of recommendations, Hagerstown City Council members individually discussed the priorities they personally believe to be of the most importance during a meeting at City Hall.

“The No. 1 thing they should do is be taking the lead on getting the Board of Education downtown,” Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said of the EDC. “And if they can’t accomplish assisting us in getting the Board of Education downtown, why are we playing? Why are we joining in this bureaucratic game of spinning wheels that go nowhere?”

Developing a theme for downtown was a recommendation of Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire, a nonvoting, ex-officio representative of the city to the EDC.

“For me, it’s education. ... We’ve spent the lion’s share of our money on improving education in this community by advancing educational opportunities downtown,” Aleshire said. “I think that the arts and entertainment and government operations all tie into it but it’s all a process of improving the educational attainment level for a population that desperately needs it to compete with the metropolitan area and our neighbors.

“If we don’t do that, we’ll continue to diminish,” he said.

In line with Aleshire, Metzner said among his personal priorities includes a specific plan to bring a four-year higher education institution into the downtown, such as an arts or culinary school that would not be in direct competition with Hagerstown Community College or University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.

Mayor David S. Gysberts noted a four-year institution with student housing would draw residents to City Center.

“I know the Board of Education has said they don’t want to be a standalone, and we don’t want them to be a standalone,” Metzner said.

Councilman Donald F. Munson, also a nonvoting, ex-officio representative of the city to the EDC, emphasized the importance of technology and putting high-speed fiber optic cable throughout Hagerstown to attract businesses and other entities.

While discussing priorities, some council members expressed frustration with repeated planning the results in little action.

“Do we have an Economic Development Commission? I don’t say that sarcastically because I don’t know,” Metzner said. “And if so, what are they doing about our efforts to revitalize downtown Hagerstown?”

Gysberts said city staff will review the suggestions made by council members and revise the original list to reflect the five-member council’s main talking points before submitting the city’s five priorities to the EDC.

Original staff recommendations included:
1. Strengthen the City Center and develop an EDC work plan that actively supports the city of Hagerstown’s residential hub.
2. Develop an EDC work plan that actively supports the city of Hagerstown’s efforts to become the regional urban center for the arts, culture and ethnic-owned businesses as well as to be recognized as a community supportive of diversity and attractive to the creative class.
3. Develop an EDC work plan that actively supports the city of Hagerstown’s efforts to strengthen the city as an employment center through marketing and business attraction.
4. Develop an EDC work plan that actively supports the city of Hagerstown’s efforts to retain employment in the city of Hagerstown through outreach to an collection of information from existing businesses.
5. Develop an EDC work plan that works to change the level of educational attainment in the city of Hagerstown resulting in an increase in the employable base.

A tentative meeting has been scheduled by the EDC’s Board of Directors for April 8 to compile the lists of the various entities into five projects.

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