Editor’s note: This is one in an occasional series of stories on findings and recommendations in The Hagerstown and Washington County Economic Development Strategic Plan.
Coming Monday: A look at other economic development agencies and how they operate.
The Washington County Board of Commissioners has made some changes to the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission’s organization and staffing, but it remains to be seen if more fundamental changes are on the way.
Last week, the EDC’s board of directors voted to recommend that the county commissioners create the position of strategic economic plan coordinator. The board also asked that the municipalities and economic development agencies and organizations in the county present a list of their top five priorities by the end of this month.
What those priorities are could determine what form the EDC takes in the future.
A majority of the five county commissioners said the EDC should remain a county department, at least for the time being, as opposed to being converted to a public-private partnership, a nonprofit corporation or some other model.
Timothy R. Troxell was dismissed from his position as executive director 11 months ago. Shortly thereafter, the EDC, through the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, known as CHIEF, hired the consulting firms Urbanomics and Leak-Goforth to draft the strategic plan. Unveiled in January, the plan was adopted by the EDC and accepted by the county commissioners, who asked the EDC to produce a list of five priorities.
The plan looked at several models for economic development agencies, including the existing commission model, all of which have pros and cons.
The consultants wrote that, in their experience, “the public-private partnership model is the most effective, in that it provides for some separation from local government while being able to attract involvement and broader funding support from those local businesses and institutions that benefit from economic development and growth.”
While the EDC has the involvement of the business community through its board of directors, it is “perceived as too county-oriented, not proactive and lacking strong direction,” the Urbanomics report said.
“Perhaps the larger issue ... is there are many well-intentioned critics and organizations with their own economic development agendas and priorities,” the report said. “For this reason, a structural change may be inevitable and necessary.”
The report stated that economic development organizations fall into one of three types, the county’s being a “hybrid type” — a department of county government with members of the private sector on its board of directors.
Another model is to have Chambers of Commerce with economic development responsibilities, with councils or committees that “support and guide the economic development staff and programs,” the report said.
The third type is “public-private partnership organizations, often called Economic Development Corporations or Partnerships,” according to the report.
The economic development strategic plan cites the Anne Arundel County (Md.) Economic Development Corporation, which was privatized as a nonprofit corporation in the 1990s, but still receives most of its funding from the county.
During his Jan. 26 presentation at The Maryland Theatre, Urbanomics President Kenneth Creveling also cited the Franklin County (Pa.) Area Development Corp. as a similar model of privatization, although the FCADC relies primarily on income it generates rather than on government subsidies.
The county commissioners’ view
“Right now, I think it should remain a county department,” Commissioner John F. Barr said. “I’d be open to looking at a public-private partnership, but I would not want to completely privatize it.”