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After one year, Washington County economic development in limbo

April 08, 2013

This month marks the one-year anniversary of a much-ballyhooed new direction for the Washington County Economic Development Commission.

It was in April 2012 that the Washington County Commissioners dismissed then-EDC chief Tim Troxell and announced that they were seeking a different direction that would focus on small business.

The EDC board also initiated a Strategic Economic Development Plan that reported back this winter with a lengthy list of areas in need of improvement. The county’s response to the study was somewhat noncommittal, although it did decide that it would pick five priorities to focus on.

As yet, these priorities have not been named. But that apparently will not stop the commissioners from hiring a Strategic Economic Development Plan Coordinator to shepherd these priorities, whatever they turn out to be.

The temporary, contractual position will pay $25,000 for six months’ work, although the commissioners reserved the right to extend the contract if necessary.

Several things can be taken out of this decision, but the unavoidable one is this: As far as economic development is concerned in Washington County, time is not of the essence.

As the months and years tick by, our neighboring counties are enjoying the advantage of having a point person and a fully staffed economic development office to court new business.

By contrast, our EDC seems more concerned with finding an “independent” coordinator who won’t be beholden to any particular development group.

In other words, Washington County seems to be more concerned with competing development factions within its own borders than it is with competing counties that are landing all the good companies while we continue to fight amongst ourselves.

Meanwhile, the county continues on with an EDC office in name only. If the commissioners are just as pleased with the results produced by this gutted office as they were when it was fully staffed, then perhaps the county can make do without an EDC altogether. It could save the tax money and let CHIEF or Greater Hagerstown take the lead.

But if the EDC has a role, and that role is determined to be the lead dog in local development circles, then we believe the time has come not to put the ship under control of a temporary contractor, but of a full-time director who will give us equal odds when competing with adjoining counties and states.

The contractual position is not expected to be filled until May, which means the goals won’t be reached until this winter at the earliest. Considering how these things work, it is very likely that this means another year will drift by before we have a solid idea of where we’re heading.

We’ve already treaded water for a year now; we would hate to see it become two. For as time passes, we can be sure that our competitors are not going to sit around and wait for us to catch up.

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To our readers:

The above Herald-Mail editorial was incorrectly posted to the news homepage of Herald-Mail.com. The editorial appeared on the homepage from about 4 p.m. Friday, April 5, to about 10:30 a.m. Saturday, April 6.

This is not a news story and was not intended to be presented as such. It reflects only the opinion of The Herald-Mail editorial board and should have been posted on the opinion page. 

I apologize for the error. 

- Jake Womer, executive editor

Editor's note: The headline of this editorial was changed April 10, 2013, for clarification.

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