Mem­bers of the busi­ness com­mu­nity make sug­ges­tions

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

Charles County has a lot of op­por­tu­nity for de­vel­op­ment, but no group is more in­trigued by the area’s po­ten­tial than the county’s busi­ness com­mu­nity.

Af­ter the county’s Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment depart­ment pre­sented its strat­egy to the Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers this week, it came time to present it to the in­ter­ested mem­bers of the busi­ness com­mu­nity.

The ideas of de­vel­op­ing more of a pipe­line for busi­ness own­ers to bring their busi­ness into county and, in turn, cre­ate skilled and high waged jobs for a work­force of just un­der 48,000 peo­ple leav­ing the county, ac­cord­ing to the report, is ap­peal­ing to many busi­ness own­ers in the county.

But still, some felt there were is­sues im­por­tant to Charles County and South­ern Mary­land that needed to be ad­dressed. Trans­porta­tion specifics was a large talk­ing point among the lis­ten­ing au­di­ence and many be­lieve it is go­ing to be part of the fu­ture for Charles County.

Ge­orge Clark, a mem­ber of the South­ern Mary­land Tri-County Coun­cil and a trans­porta­tion spe­cial­ist, said he did not see the is­sue ad­dressed enough. There was a “ma­jor lack of trans­porta­tion is­sues and goals,” in the report, he said.

“This county, par­tic­u­larly Wal­dorf, we’re not go­ing to at­tract ci­ti­zens un­til we get the light rail or rapid buses and I don’t see that,” Clark said.

With­out those things, it will be hard to at­tract any­one to work here Clark said. Es­pe­cially with to­day’s em­pha­sis on hav­ing walk­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties and hav­ing dif­fer­ent means of trans­porta­tion.

But Jay Gar­ner, founder and head of Gar­ner Eco­nomics which con­ducted the sur­vey used to help crate the plan, said the trans­porta­tion fac­tor “did not res­onate” with peo­ple in the fo­cus groups they con­ducted and the 510 sur­veys they col­lected from busi­ness in­clined ci­ti­zens.

Be­cause the strate­gic plan stretches out over a five year pe­riod, Gar­ner said, trans­porta­tion was not as big of an is­sue as build­ing more of a foun­da­tion for work­ers to re­turn to the county. Trans­porta­tion projects will take years to com­plete, he said.

“What we looked at in­ter­nally were in­fra­struc­ture and road net­works in Charles County, which we pointed out was an as­set,” Gar­ner said. “That was the stint of our dis­cus­sion on trans­porta­tion. It is an as­set.”

David Versel, a Gar­ner Eco­nomics as­so­ciate, agreed and said the plan is aimed “to­ward the now” within the next five years rather than down the road. Big trans­porta­tion projects will not be in the county within that time frame.

Ben­jamin Watkins, a Port To­bacco cit­i­zen, said he ap­pre­ci­ated the depart­ment want­ing to “add pri­vate part­ners” to Charles County and open op­por­tu­ni­ties for busi­nesses to part­ner with Charles County for work.

But Watkins said he would have liked to see the county add pri­vate fund­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­vestors in the county. Part of the plan, Gar­ner said, is to open up more op­por­tu­ni­ties for en­trepreneurs in the county. Adding op­por­tu­ni­ties for pri­vate eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment fund­ing would fit in.

“Best prac­tice mod­els are funded more by the pri­vate sec­tor than the pub­lic sec­tor,” Gar­ner said. “You don’t have the pri­vate cap­i­tal right now. But to fund the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment needs prop­erly, that’s a great next step.”

Leona Charles, the owner of SPC Con­sult­ing, said she would like to see the mil­len­nial work­force ad­dressed more. As a busi­ness owner, she said, she would like to at­tract more mil­len­ni­als to work in highly skilled po­si­tions.

“I don’t want to have to go an hour up the road. I would like to to be able to pull from a lo­cal work­force,” Charles said. “Those are the peo­ple that I draw from.”

Charles also said she wanted to see more re­sources in the county for small busi­ness own­ers to help de­velop up­start busi­nesses.

Many mil­len­ni­als are cur­rently leav­ing the county to work in other places, Gar­ner said, but the pop­u­la­tion is here. The av­er­age age in Charles County is 37.6 years old, he said, so there are work­ers to pull from lo­cally.

“They’re here at night and on week­ends. They would pre­fer to not be driv­ing,” Gar­ner said.

Trans­porta­tion plays a part in that, Gar­ner said, but mil­len­ni­als just need to be en­ticed to work in th­ese lo­cal po­si­tions.

Eric Hen­der­son, a mem­ber of XBGC In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Group, which links for­eign in­vestors and funds to projects and op­por­tu­ni­ties in the United States, said the county should look into hav­ing for­eign in­vest­ment money for projects such as the light rail.

Many other coun­ties, na­tion­ally, are look­ing at EB-5 fund­ing, which is an in­vestor cap­i­tal pro­gram for im­mi­grants to in­vest in ven­tures in the United States. There is an in­ter­na­tional mar­ket wait­ing to be tapped by Charles County, Hen­der­son said.

“In most of the world out­side of the United States multi­bil­lion dol­lar con­ces­sion­aires do light rail at no cost to ju­ris­dic­tions,” Hen­der­son said.

There would need to be leg­is­la­tion or an ini­tia­tive in place to do that, Hen­der­son said, but it is pos­si­ble.

Gar­ner said this was not in the scope of the eval­u­a­tion and rec­om­men­da­tion, but it is some­thing that can be ac­com­plished if the county’s Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment depart­ment wants to look into it.

Be­sides, Versel said, it may not be prac­ti­cal to look for for­eign in­vestors at this point with the county lack­ing projects they may be will­ing to in­vest in.

Over­all, Gar­ner said, this is just the be­gin­ning for Charles County and the growth of its eco­nomics. The county has “much to be proud of,” he said, and Brown along with the rest of the Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment depart­ment leaves the county in good hands.

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