County re­sponds to fu­ture eco­nomic plans

Gar­ner Eco­nomics pre­sents rec­om­men­da­tions to grow econ­omy

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­

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.

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