Can­di­dates of­fer thoughts on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment

Kent County News - - NEWS - By DANIEL DIVILIO ddivilio@thekent­coun­tynews.com

CHESTERTOWN — As the Kent County com­mis­sioner can­di­dates have been mak­ing the rounds on the cam­paign trail, a com­mon ques­tion raised is how to spur eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and growth.

Among those ask­ing is the Greater Chestertown Ini­tia­tive, a coali­tion of lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion and busi­ness lead­ers. Ear­lier this year, the GCI posed a series of ques­tion to those run­ning for Kent County Com­mis­sioner. In ad­di­tion to eco­nomic growth, there were ques­tions about pub­lic trans­porta­tion, schools, the hospi­tal in Chestertown and racial in­clu­siv­ity.

The Kent County News will pro­vide the can­di­dates’ an­swers to the GCI’s ques­tions re­lat­ing to each topic over the com­ing weeks. In ad­di­tion, the can­di­dates’ full, unedited an­swers are avail­able on www.thekent­coun­tynews.com.

This week, the fo­cus is on eco­nomic growth. In ask­ing about growth, the GCI notes that the 2017 Kent County Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Strate­gic Plan pri­or­i­tizes busi­ness ex­pan­sion, re­ten­tion and at­trac­tion. The GCI asked each can­di­date for their “unique vi­sion” for eco­nomic growth and ex­pected out­comes in the next five to 10 years.

“What proac­tive strate­gies will you im­ple­ment to re­cruit busi­nesses ap­pro­pri­ate to the county? What is one eco­nomic ini­tia­tive the com­mis­sion­ers should launch in their first 120 days in of­fice that would en­cour­age eco­nomic growth in the county? What is your plan for cre­at­ing a busi­ness friendly, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for small busi­nesses mov­ing to our county as they deal with county rules and reg­u­la­tions?” the GCI asked.

Ron Fithian, Rock Hall’s town man­ager and a Demo­crat who has spent 20 years on the Kent County Com­mis­sion­ers, high­lighted the cur­rent board’s ef­fort to ex­tend high­speed in­ter­net through­out the county, say­ing it will be a valu­able tool for at­tract­ing busi­nesses. He also wrote about the county’s com­pre­hen­sive plan for land use and de­vel­op­ment, not­ing the des­ig­na­tion of the in­ter­change area of state route 291 and U.S. Route 301 as a site for “any spillover growth from the Mid­dle­town (Del.) area.”

“We have worked hard in an at­tempt to re­visit the rules and reg­u­la­tions to pre­vent Kent County from be­ing suf­fo­cated due to un­nec­es­sary rules. We should con­tinue that go­ing for­ward,” Fithian wrote.

Fithian said the staff of Kent County Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment has in­creased to be able to bet­ter serve any small busi­ness open­ing here.

“They are well versed in work­ing any new busi­ness through the reg­u­la­tory process and make the own­ers aware of any ben­e­fi­cial pro­grams avail­able,” he wrote.

Bob Ja­cob, a Re­pub­li­can chal­lenger, busi­ness owner and mem­ber of the Kent County Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Com­mis­sion, said that in five to 10 years, he would ex­pect to in­crease county rev­enue $3 to $5 mil­lion to keep up with in­fla­tion and to con­tinue provid- ing ser­vices. By his es­ti­ma­tion, that trans­lates into 1,000 to 1,500 new fam­i­lies in the county.

Ja­cob wrote about the im­por­tance of busi­ness re­ten­tion and the need to work on a plan to en­sure a county project aimed at ex­pand­ing in­ter­net ac­cess pays for it­self. He also would di­rect eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cials to tar­get any busi­ness that would con­form to lo­cal zon­ing. He said it is bet­ter to bring in new out­side busi­nesses than busi­nesses “that re­cy­cle money from within the county.”

“The other way I look at eco­nomic growth is that lit­tle is gained for the county un­less the own­ers and em­ploy­ees live here. The county does col­lect the prop­erty tax from the busi­ness that is based here but does not col­lect the in­come tax from the owner un­less they live here,” Ja­cob wrote.

Re­pub­li­can chal­lenger and farmer Tom Ma­son said he would start by di­rect­ing the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of­fice to ad­ver­tise that Kent County is open for busi­ness. He wrote that, with the Route 301 cor­ri­dor and the prox­im­ity to Mid­dle­town, Del., Kent County is an ideal lo­ca­tion for small to medium-sized “tech­nol­ogy and en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly busi­nesses.”

“For far too long, Kent County has stag­nated and re­fused or made it dif­fi­cult for cur­rent busi­nesses to ex­pand or new busi­nesses to lo­cate here,” Ma­son wrote. “In the past Kent County has been known as a dif­fi­cult area for new busi­ness to lo­cate. This per­cep­tion must change for the county to move for­ward.”

Ma­son said the ex­pan­sion of the busi­ness base will help grow the county’s pop­u­la­tion as more peo­ple will re­al­ize how great a place this to live. He cau­tioned that the agri­cul­tural and seafood in­dus­tries “that are so im­por­tant to Kent County” are not harmed though.

Wil­liam Pick­rum, a Demo­crat who works in the State of Delaware’s bud­get of­fice, is pres­i­dent of the Kent County Com­mis­sion- ers. In his re­sponse to the GCI, he said that eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment has been at the fore­front of his ef­forts since he was first elected com­mis­sioner in 2002.

“We can’t build bet­ter com­mu­ni­ties if our neigh­bors don’t have jobs, safe and af­ford­able hous­ing, and le­git­i­mate op­por­tu­ni­ties to es­tab­lish sta­ble wealth for their fam­i­lies. That is why we need a ro­bust eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment plan — one which works for ev­ery­one,” he wrote.

Pick­rum pro­posed es­tab­lish­ing a more ro­bust Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Com­mis­sion and sug­gested the county part­ner with the Mary­land De­part­ment of La­bor, Li­cens­ing and Reg­u­la­tion and its ex­ist­ing pro­grams for busi­ness de­vel­op­ment and work­force train­ing.

He also wants to reg­u­larly re­view county reg­u­la­tions to as­sess their im­pacts on busi­nesses and growth and to em­power the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment staff to “wel­come every busi­ness mov­ing to the County, ori­en­tat­ing them to the County and its busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment.”

Re­pub­li­can Bill Short has served as a com­mis­sioner since 2006 and owns his own busi­ness. He wants to see sus­tain­able growth in des­ig­nated ar­eas, no­tably the Route 301 cor­ri­dor, and high-speed in­ter­net ex­panded in the Milling­ton area.

He wrote about his ef­forts to en­cour­age and en­hance busi­ness growth through zon­ing changes and his work to ob­tain Com­merce Zone, En­ter­prise Zone and Arts and En­ter­tain­ment Dis­trict des­ig­na­tions pro­vid­ing in­cen­tives for busi­nesses to lo­cate or ex­pand here.

“State reg­u­la­tions have played a big part in slow­ing the process of mov­ing the County for­ward when it comes to new busi­ness. I have spent nu­mer­ous hours in An­napo­lis sup­port­ing bills that help loosen the re­straints put on busi­nesses small and large in the County,” Short wrote. “En­gag­ing with cur­rent and po­ten­tial busi­ness own­ers is im­per­a­tive to re­main knowl­edge­able about the chal­lenges they face so that as a County Com­mis­sioner I can ad­vo­cate on their be­half, not just at the County level but also at the state level.”

Demo­cratic chal­lenger Tom Tim­ber­man, an in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment con­sul­tant, said one of his first ac­tions would be to form a com­mit­tee of pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor rep­re­sen­ta­tives to de­fine the char­ac­ters of em­ploy­ers to be sought. A top choice for him is health care providers, no­tably the U.S. De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs.

He said the tourism in­dus­try also needs to be ex­panded.

Tim­ber­man said the com­mit­tee’s work would con­sider in­cen­tives lo­cal gov­ern­ments can of­fer to prospec­tive em­ploy­ers and a de­scrip­tion of the qual­ity-of-life and busi­ness ad­van­tages the county of­fers.

He wants to es­tab­lish a pro­gram through which lo­cal res­i­dents in­tro­duce po­ten­tial in­vestors to the com­mu­nity and to the “unique qual­i­ties of life avail­able in Kent County.” He also wants to look at lo­cal busi­ness reg­u­la­tions and fig­ure out how to stream­line county re­quire­ments and with the in­cor­po­rated mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties’ pro­cesses.

“In­vestors have told me our County and town reg­u­la­tions and pro­cesses are com­pli­cated, time-con­sum­ing and dis­cour­ag­ing,” Tim­ber­man wrote.

The elec­tion is Nov. 6. Early vot­ing runs Oct. 25 through Nov. 1.

PHO­TOS BY JACK RODGERS

The can­di­dates for Kent County com­mis­sioner are, top row from left, Ron Fithian, Bob Ja­cob and Tom Ma­son, bot­tom row from left, Wil­liam Pick­rum, Bill Short and Tom Tim­ber­man.

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