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Commissioners OK Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development priorities

They include preparing an infrastructure needs assessment report; workforce development needs; a focus on City Center; developing a countywide marketing plan; and establishing the EDC as the lead organization to provide a more unified focus in economic development

April 30, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission Chairman Dan Pheil, center, speaks to the Board of Commissioners as Ronald Bowers, left, and Stu Mullendore, right, look on at a meeting on Tuesday. The EDC presented its top five priorities to the commissioners.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

The Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission on Tuesday unveiled its top five strategic priorities for the future, highlighting the need for renewed emphasis on overall product development, better marketing and leaving the county-level agency’s organizational structure alone.

Accepted unanimously by the county’s Board of Commissioners, the unranked priorities are preparing an infrastructure needs assessment report; workforce development needs; a focus on Hagerstown’s City Center; developing a countywide marketing plan; and establishing the EDC as the lead organization to provide a more unified focus in economic development.

“I’m very glad that the commissioners approved it ... on the first ballot, if you will,” EDC Chairman Dan Pheil said. “It shows their support.”

Pheil was joined by Ron Bowers, vice chairman of the EDC, and EDC board member Stuart L. Mullendore during a presentation before the five commissioners.

The five recommendations were decided at the EDC’s April 11 meeting after receiving input from various community stakeholders, including the city, the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Hagerstown Committee and the Bowman Group, Pheil said.

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“We need to continue to make sure that this strategic plan or these five priorities do not result in just another report, but these five priorities are action items,” Commissioner William B. McKinley said after the meeting.

To accomplish the goals, the county has begun its search for a strategic plan coordinator, a temporary six-month position that carries the sole responsibility of handling the day-to-day operations of facilitating the EDC’s five priorities.

Pheil said he was pleased to see three priorities rooted in product development — infrastructure assessment, workforce development and City Center — came to the top in their final decision.

Now with the recommendations approved, Pheil said the EDC will work to make “sure we take stock of what product we have and identify the gaps then make the action plan to close those gaps as they relate to our targeted industries and ... customers within those industries.

“That’s a critical step; to close those gaps,” he said.

Several targeted industries for the EDC include advanced manufacturing, biotechnology and aerospace defense, he said.

McKinley, an exofficio member of the EDC for the past 2-plus years, said he was especially pleased to see that workforce development made the list. That goal includes having the EDC Workforce Development Committee lead efforts to identify current and future workforce needs.

“I think that lends itself to education. I think it lends itself to job training,” he said. “One of things I’ve learned — I’ve visited over 60 small businesses in the last two years — is that there are jobs out there.

There are not always people with the skills to fill those jobs.”

Pheil said the infrastructure needs assessment entails a comprehensive report that looks at needs and provides a consolidated approach to needed upgrades that will promote economic development opportunities.

As for City Center, Pheil said the EDC plans to allow the city to identify its own set of economic development goals, but then the agency will “actively engage” the city on their chosen goals.

“We do recognize the importance of the City Center,” Pheil told the commissioners.

Asked about supporting the city during its current redevelopment efforts, McKinley said he believes the county has already proven its devotion to helping revitalize the city, but a workable plan is required.

“A year or so ago, they had a plan that included a stadium, included a parking garage, included possibly the board of ed downtown,” he said. “Those things went away and when they went away, obviously the support that the county had pledged went away with it.

“... I believe once the city comes up with a plan of revitalization, they’re going to find the county very interested and willing to engage in conversations so that we can be the best help in that,” McKinley said.

The development of a countywide marketing plan will help incorporate tourism and quality of life aspects, and serve as a tool to rebranding the county as a “destination” community, Pheil said, noting that the goal is to tie the first three priorities together into an overall marketing strategy.

“We need to look at supply chains,” Mullendore said. “We need to look at what we already have here — the companies that can sell to other companies here in the county.”

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