Members of the business community make suggestions
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.