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CHIEF contributes substantially to overall development in Washington County

June 30, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

For decades, the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, known as CHIEF, has functioned like the “quasi-development arm” of Washington County government, according to County Administrator Gregory B. Murray.

Led by President Gregory I. Snook, CHIEF currently is partnering with the county on the large-scale development project that includes building Yale and Professional drives as well as a new technology business park on the former Mount Aetna Farms property between Meritus Medical Center and Hagerstown Community College.

“They’re not a private developer. They don’t make money off this,” Murray said. “They do it on behalf of the county.”

Snook, a former county commissioner, also serves as chairman of HCC’s Board of Trustees and as a Meritus board member, both volunteer positions.

Yale Drive is the first portion of new road that will be built, and not only will it provide initial access to CHIEF’s business park, it will provide a secondary access point to the rear of HCC.

Despite his various affiliations, Snook said his efforts as head of CHIEF do not present a conflict of interest in regard to his relationships with the college or the hospital.

“I do recuse myself any time discussions come up either at the college or at the hospital in reference to this,” he said. “The staff knows my involvement and they make sure (to) stay clear of all that, and I do.”

CHIEF, a private nonprofit organization started in 1960, functions by recovering its costs on projects and then rolling that money into the next project, with the county’s agreement, Murray said. He noted the county can obtain grant funding that helps move projects along more efficiently.

“All of our revenues that we receive from land sales go back into land development, and our sole purpose is to provide jobs for this community,” Snook said. “And that’s what this next business park is.”

Murray pointed out that CHIEF is contributing substantially to the overall development, specifically by giving the county cost-free easements and building all of the necessary utilities to serve the area.

Furthermore, Snook said he does not own property in the vicinity of the proposed technology park and its success would not result in a personal windfall.

Snook said the former farmland property between Meritus and HCC that CHIEF bought about three years ago for $3.2 million was for sale for “anyone to buy,” but CHIEF and the county saw it as an opportunity to do something that would help move the area forward.

“The county actually came to CHIEF and asked us to buy this property several years ago with the sole purpose of development,” Snook said.

The proposed Mount Aetna Technology Park is the fifth such business park project on which CHIEF has collaborated with the county to create jobs and increase the tax base, Murray said.

Snook estimates that thousands of high-tech industry jobs, such as cybersecurity, renewable energy and biotechnology, would be created as the park is built out over the next decade or two.

CHIEF’s first major success came in 1960, when it used 400 acres of land to attract Mack Trucks to Hagerstown, according to a 2012 column written by Snook that was published in The Herald-Mail. Mack Trucks since has become Volvo Powertain and is one of the county’s largest employers.

Other major projects undertaken by CHIEF since then include the Interstate Industrial Park, the 70/81 Industrial Park, Airport Business Park and Newgate Industrial Park, Snook said, noting businesses such as Purina Mills, Citicorp Credit Services and Cinetic Landis as some of the major employers brought to the area as a result.

CHIEF is governed by a 15-member board of directors, including four officers, all of whom are volunteers, Snook said. The organization has two paid staff — Snook as the full-time director, and a part-time position — and taxpayer money is not used to pay or fund CHIEF’s operations, he said.

Snook took over as president of CHIEF in 2011 after former president Richard W. Phoebus Sr. stepped down and moved to Florida.

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