The Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission Board of Directors voted unanimously Thursday to recommend that the county hire a coordinator to shepherd its economic development strategic plan priorities, but it will be a few more weeks before those priorities are identified.
“It’s an interim plan to get the strategic plan moving,” County Administrator Gregory B. Murray told the EDC board before its vote. The position could be part-time and work with the economic development team, he said.
“The person would be able to recommend what needs to be done” to achieve the strategic plan goals,” Murray said. “They would not be directly supervising staff.”
The economic development team, which includes staff in other departments, will be under Murray’s management.
A strategic plan coordinator would not be the same as an executive director, Murray told the board. An executive director, if and when one might be named, would have additional duties, he said.
The EDC has not had an executive director since Timothy Troxell was dismissed in April 2012.
“Many people have the perception ... that we’re floundering out there,” Murray said at one point in the meeting. But, he said, the EDC has managed more activity and inquiries, provided more incentives to businesses and had more direct contact with businesses “than they ever have in the past.”
Murray did not offer supporting numbers at the meeting.
The EDC’s Business Visitation and Retention Program Assistant conducted approximately 50 visits in the past year, said County Administrator Sarah Lankford Sprecher.
The EDC last year commissioned an economic development strategic plan, which recently was adopted by the EDC’s board of directors and accepted by the Board of County Commissioners.
Among the suggestions in the plan was that the county examine restructuring the EDC, presenting options that included forming a public-private partnership, or revamping the county department.
“I think they are headed in the right direction,” Gregory I. Snook, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, or CHIEF, said of the board’s action.
“We’re still open to discussing with them in reference to whether they want to go with a public-private partnership,” Snook said.
Once a strategic plan coordinator is on board and analyzes the situation, that person may come up with further recommendations for the EDC, he said.
“I would think that somewhere along the line, you’re going to have to have one person running the show as far as economic development,” Snook said. That could be in the form of an internal department head, or someone heading a public-private partnership, he said.
Should the commissioners hire a coordinator, the number of staff assigned to the economic development team would be eight, said Sprecher.
The board on Thursday reached a consensus that the nine municipalities in the county and the other private organizations and public entities interviewed in the study submit their five priorities by the end of this month. The board tentatively scheduled a meeting for Thursday, April 8, to try to narrow down the various lists to five projects.
The Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce submitted a list, starting with determining the best organizational structure for economic development. That was followed by developing a marketing plan; building a strategic data base for marketing the county to businesses; picking three industry segments and launching a sales and marketing effort; and completing and implementing a marketing plan for Hagerstown Regional Airport.
The Greater Hagerstown Committee’s list of priorities also started with deciding “on the ongoing structure for EDC as soon as possible.”
The others were: Strengthening communications among economic development agencies and organizations; strengthening Hagerstown’s downtown; a multiuse stadium and events center downtown; moving the Board of Education downtown; and diversifying housing in the city center.