By CALEB CALHOUN
7:46 PM EST, February 3, 2013
With possible changes in the works for the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, area residents recently offered advice about what they thought the EDC could do to bring jobs to the area.
Bryan Martin of Hagerstown said the Hagerstown-Washington County area should be able to use its airport and highways as selling points to lure prospective businesses.
“We’ve got an airport that is underrated and we’re right at the intersection of two major highways (Interstate 70 and Interstate 81),” he said. “I think they should promote the area itself from a transportation standpoint.”
Martin, 60, said he thought manufacturing jobs should be a focus for the EDC, as should promoting the area’s location.
“We’re close to two major cities,” he said. “Businesses could benefit from a lower cost of living up here.”
Privatizing the EDC, a county agency that provides assistance to new and expanding businesses throughout the county, and merging it with other organizations was one of several options mentioned in an economic development strategic plan for the area that was presented to government officials and business people at The Maryland Theatre on Jan. 19.
The study identified strengths and weaknesses of the Hagerstown-Washington County economy, ways to create growth and a sustainable economic future, and how to market the area as an attractive place for business.
Mike Sokol of Hagerstown said the EDC appears to be too focused on retail and should focus on bringing in more technical positions.
“I’m not seeing that we can build very many more malls here, and the hope for future growth is in fact technology,” said Sokol, 58. Washington County Technical High School “itself is fantastic here, but sadly, once many of the kids graduate, there’s not going to be many jobs here available for them, so they’re going to go someplace else.”
Sokol’s wife, Linda, 53, said the EDC should get involved with education to increase the number of skilled workers in the area.
“There needs to be a focus on another tech school, maybe in the North End,” she said.
Charles Bailey of Sharpsburg also said the EDC should find a way to focus on “futuristic technology” by tapping into the labor force that already exists in the county.
“It seems to me we have a lot of idle plants and idle workers in Washington County that could be refitted and retrained to meet the new demands of new technology,” said Bailey, 52. “I think we have a chance to bring in technologies that will not harm our environment.”
Kenny Williams of Smithsburg suggested the EDC focus on attracting more jobs in the trucking industry.
“It seems like trucking is successful everywhere else, why not in Hagerstown?” he said. “They should also give tax credits for businesses and tell them the advantages of coming here, but right now I think we’re losing more than we’re gaining.”
Washington County’s unemployment rate rose to 8.9 percent in December, up from the adjusted rate of 8.1 percent in November, while the national unemployment rate remained at 7.8 percent.
William Whetzel of Cearfoss said he is pessimistic about the EDC’s ability to bring in new jobs.
“I don’t think anything will come to the county because of the taxes and spending the commissioners do,” said Whetzel, 71.
Ruth Stone of Hagerstown said the county’s location could be used to its advantage to attract certain types of jobs.
“Any company that uses the area as a distribution center would be good because it is so close to I-70 and I-81,” she said. “I remember the day when jobs were plentiful around here.”
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