Candidates offer thoughts on economic development
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.
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.