County responds to future economic plans
Garner Economics presents recommendations to grow economy
The Charles County Economic Development department has huge goals for the county’s future and transformation.
To usher the county into this new era, the department hired consulting firm Garner Economics to review data on Charles County and come up with solutions to solve negative issues and highlight strengths for the area.
The department’s goal, assigned to them
by the Charles County Board of Commissioners, was to develop a plan that will move the county forward in a tangible and practical way.
“This plan will help us to do that,” said Darrell Brown, head of the county’s economic development department. “We don’t have to wonder where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.”
The county has never had an economic development strategic plan put in place, Brown said. There have been studies conducted and things suggested, but this plan comprehensively lays out what the county should do and how the county should go about accomplishing their goals and marketing themselves.
The strategies within the plan are “data-driven,” Brown said, and were a reflection of feedback from public comment, an electronic survey of 510 people, and four focus groups with 51 people in total.
The plan highlights the county’s need to maintain a strong workforce of “talented” workers in the county, Jay Garner, founder and head of Garner Economics said. The county has just under 48,000 people leaving the county for work on average per day. If they can keep those dollars in the county, he said, it could bring consistency to the county’s economic stability.
David Versel, a Garner Economics associate who helped develop the report, said Charles County has one of the youngest populations in the state yet they still manage to reel in more income than many other jurisdictions.
The median age in the county is 37.6 years old. In comparison, Frederick and Howard Counties both have median ages over 38 years old. The state’s median age is 37.4.
This is a positive for the county, they said, but with many of those younger people leaving the county for higher paying wages, the county does not bear the fruits of their labor. The average income for the average household in the county is approximately $88,000 per year with individual residents making $1,296 per week.
But the average weekly wage for jobs located within the county is just $788, according to the report.
“You have an awful lot of brainpower and talented people who make their living outside of the border of the county,” Versel said.
With a lower cost of living compared to other areas, Versel said, the county needs to find a happy medium point to attract workers back into the county.
To combat this, Versel said, and create more opportunities for people in the county to have high paying skilled labor jobs, the report recommends the county to focus on four areas: Federal contracting services, health services, entrepreneurial development along with research and development engineering.
All of those industries are growing around the country and there has always been a large federal presence in the area because of the county’s proximity to Washington. The county can capitalize on its office spaces, workforce and create more of a “open business” atmosphere in the county.
County Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy (D) said the county will take a look at the recommendations and appreciates the insight from Garner and associates.
Some of these, potentially, may be implemented into the county’s comprehensive plan.
“I think the timing on this is very good,” Murphy said. “Maybe there are some things we can do with this after we take a look.”
According to the report created by Garner and his team, the county has 17 “assets” they can highlight and work to improve on and 14 “challenges” that need to be corrected. There are 19 “neutral” factors, Garner said, that can turn into positives or negatives.
The assets are variables that need to be exploited to help “differentiate” the county from other jurisdictions. Challenges have to be addressed and managed to keep the county looking desirable for businesses.
“They can be a deal closer on any type of investment deal or analysis,” Garner said.
Some of the strengths the county has that the report highlights are its proximity to a global business market in Washington, the availability of technicians, eco-tourism, open office space and sites as well as low cost of labor for companies in the area.
County Administrator Michael D. Mallinoff said Mallows Bay, which could become one of the first new National Marine Sanctuaries in over a decade, may fit under that eco-tourism umbrella and present a big positive for the county.
“It would be one of the few in the country,” Mallinoff said. “It could be quite an opportunity. Particularly around an area we are trying to grow.”
However, Garner said, those positives do come with negatives. The lack of low labor cost in the area also leads to employees leaking out and going elsewhere for higher pay. Those higher paying jobs are in Washington, D.C., Fairfax County in Virginia and other metro areas.
There is also a lack of engineers in the county with skilled industrial workers leaving for work outside of the county as well. And the same goes for skilled clerical workers. The lack of venture capital in the county also scares companies away, he said.
To attract more companies into this area, Garner said, the county needs to bring them opportunity to work in this area.
Some neutral elements can be turned into positives, he said, to help push that forward. Things like the county’s impending rail service in the future, port facilities and marinas as well as the Maryland airport in Indian Head. All of those, Garner said, are things that can be turned into positives for the county.