Sym­po­sium out­lines eco­nomic growth po­ten­tial

Record Observer - - FRONT PAGE - By HAN­NAH COMBS hcombs@kibay­times.com

GRASONVILLE — The Queen Anne’s County Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Com­mis­sion pre­sented an Eco­nomic Out­look Sym­po­sium on Tues­day, March 21, at the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay En­vi­ron­men­tal Cen­ter in Grasonville. At­ten­dees were in­vited to hear sym­po­sium speak­ers with ex­pe­ri­ence in lo­cal, state and global eco­nomic are­nas.

Look­ing at na­tional and global fore­casts as well as ar­eas in which Queen Anne’s County could grow and sup­port lo­cal busi­ness, and also take ad­van­tage of tax in­cen­tives were all topics of dis­cus­sion. Eric Hoff­man, chair­man of the Queen Anne’s County Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Com­mis­sion and gen­eral man­ager of the Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press An­napo­lis East–Kent Is­land, wel­comed the filled room.

“Busi­ness in Queen Anne’s County rock,” said Hoff­man, cit­ing one of the trend­ing new slo­gans pro­mot­ing Queen Anne’s County as the place to “Live. Work. Play.” The sym­po­sium presents an op­por­tu­nity for ideas to be shared and great things to hap­pen, said Hof fman, as he in­tro­duced lo­cal busi­ness­man Jim DiDonato.

DiDonato, pres­i­dent of Mal­lard Con­struc­tion Group lo­cated in Ch­ester, has been ac­tive in prop­erty man­age­ment and con­struc­tion for the past sev­eral decades. As part of a fam­ily-owned busi­ness, DiDonato has ex­pe­ri­ence in the lo­cal real es­tate mar­ket, commercial leas­ing and busi­ness devel­op­ment. DiDonato thanked the county com­mis­sion­ers for ef­fort they put forth in help­ing busi­nesses and growth suc­ceed in the county. The county has changed much since the late ‘70s, DiDonato

said, cit­ing pri­mary re­tail con­struc­tion as one sig­nif­i­cant change.

Queen Anne’s County is the gate­way to the Eastern Shore, he said, it is a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion of growth ... people want to work where they live.

From a re­gional and na­tional ten­ant perspective, DiDonato said he has ob­served three things larger busi­nesses look at when con­sid­er­ing an area, traf­fic count, house­hold in­come and pop­u­la­tion.

Re­gard­ing traf­fic vol­ume or count, DiDonato said the cur­rent and re­cent in­fras­truc­ture im­prove­ments have not only fa­cil­i­tated the state’s “Reach the Beach” plan, but also in­creased the abil­ity for lo­cals to travel more ef­fi­ciently to points west.

Con­tin­u­ing on that thought of busi­ness growth po­ten­tial, DiDonato said, land and rents are more ap­peal­ing in Queen Anne’s County and points south and east on the Shore com­par­a­tively to western shore prices. There is also less com­pe­ti­tion for par­tic­u­lar types of busi­nesses, he said, giv­ing the ex­am­ple restau­rants, in An­napo­lis a restau­rant or food es­tab­lish­ment might be one of 300, here they are more likely to be one of 20.

The county has to deal with codes passed down from the state and en­sure com­pli­ance, but from a re­tail perspective, said DiDonato, the county has over­all stream­lined the process to make it more ef­fi­cient [than it was pre­vi­ously] ... that helps with the [growth] cli­mate.

Steve Pen­ning­ton, manag­ing direc­tor, Busi­ness and In­dus­try Sec­tor Devel­op­ment for the Mary­land Depart­ment of Com­merce, also ad­dressed the group. The com­merce team for the state (in­clud­ing a re­gional team of 12 mem­bers set out across the state) fo­cuses on sev­eral spe­cific ar­eas, in­clud­ing jobs, growth re­ten­tion and at­trac­tion, Pen­ning­ton said.

“Queen Anne’s County is the poster child for ‘Live. Work. Play.’”, he said, “... there is a qual­ity of life ... what­ever you want to do, you can do here.”

Pen­ning­ton fo­cused his talk on the En­ter­prise Zone Tax In­cen­tives avail­able to Mary­land busi­ness own­ers. De­signed to en­cour­age job cre­ation and in­vest­ment, the zone tax in­cen­tive is one of the old­est pro­grams in the na­tion — adopted in 1982 for the state of Mary­land. The zones are tar­geted to en­cour­age growth in spe­cific ar­eas. Busi­nesses lo­cated in en­ter­prise zones can be el­i­gi­ble for in­come tax cred­its and real prop­erty tax cred­its in re­turn for job cre­ation and in­vest­ments in the zone. For Queen Anne’s County, the pri­mary en­ter­prise zone is lo­cated along the U.S. Route 50 cor­ri­dor.

Coun­ties and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties ap­ply to the Depart­ment of Com­merce for des­ig­na­tion of zones, and the county is re­spon­si­ble for ad­min­is­ter­ing the zones and avail­able in­cen­tives, Pen­ning­ton said. El­i­gi­ble busi­nesses cre­at­ing new full time jobs can re­ceive an in­come tax credit of $1,000 up to $6,000 over three years. Queen Anne’s busi­nesses that in­vest $25,000 or more in real prop­erty im­prove­ments and cre­ate at least 12 new full­time jobs within two years are el­i­gi­ble for a four-year prop­erty tax credit against new prop­erty taxes gen­er­ated by the project.

Key­note speaker Dr. Memo Diriker, found­ing direc­tor of the Busi­ness, Eco­nomic, and Community Out­reach Net­work (BEA­CON), is an ad­viser of a large num­ber of pri­vate, pub­lic and non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions. Diriker’s method fo­cuses on the “Three E’s”: Ef­fec­tive­ness, Ef­fi­ciency, and Ev­i­dence.” Diriker is cur­rently as­sist­ing the county via the the Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Com­mit­tee’s Strate­gic Plan with cre­at­ing a dash­board con­sist­ing of an eco­nomic anal­y­sis, quar­terly up­dates and trends, which will be shared to elected of­fi­cials and then the gen­eral pub­lic.

As some­one who stud­ies trends, Diriker said he is con­fi­dent that his­tory re­peats it­self. Look­ing at the global, na­tional and re­gional cli­mate, there are rea­sons to be hope­ful, but also cau­tious, he said.

“If you think ev­ery­thing is fine, that is when dis­as­ter tends to strike,” he said.

“Are we re­ally liv­ing in a bad time glob­ally?” he asked, then an­swered his own ques­tion, “The in­ter­net has had the un­in­tended con­se­quence of giv­ing mar­ginal thinkers a larger plat­form to dis­cus­sions they would not other­wise have been in­vited to speak.

“The re­sult is that we are find­ing our own echo cham­bers, not work­ing to­gether ... cre­at­ing po­lar­iza­tion.”

The global econ­omy has been very vo­latile, but is on a grad­ual up­swing, Diriker said. Look­ing at the weighted av­er­ages, he said he ex­pects it to con­tinue up­ward for the next 18 to 24 months.

Mar­kets, hous­ing sta­tis­tics, hous­ing prices, na­tional pol­icy im­pacts and a global shock (i.e. in­sta­bil­ity with North Korea) could all lead or con­trib­ute to the next re­ces­sion, said Diriker. Hop­ing for the best is not plan­ning, he added.

Fed­eral pol­icy changes are needed, he said, but there are no sim­ple so­lu­tions to such ex­ten­sive prob­lems; too much change too fast can also be detri­men­tal to the econ­omy. While Diriker be­lieves it is an ex­cit­ing time with many pos­si­bil­i­ties, he said the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion is a dif­fi­cult one to read. Govern­ment needs not be run like a busi­ness, but like the best busi­ness, said Diriker.

The govern­ment col­lects data, but doesn’t al­ways use that date ef­fec­tively ... ef­fec­tive use of data is the ap­proach we need, Diriker said.

In the pre­vi­ous quar­ter’s eco­nomic sur­vey among Queen Anne’s County res­i­dents, the gen­eral ex­pec­ta­tion is that eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, hir­ing and wages will re­main fa­vor­able and in­crease over the next three and six months. Ac­cess to credit is ex­pected to re­main fairly sta­ble, but with po­ten­tial rate in­creases, some are wor­ried about bor­row­ing; there is also a curve of di­min­ish­ing con­fi­dence go­ing for­ward, he said.

What that tells us, he said, is “spend now, take risks now, but plan and pre­pare for the fu­ture.”

Re­gard­ing tax in­cen­tives, of­ten tax in­cen­tives have more to do with po­lit­i­cal strate­gies than eco­nomic devel­op­ment; in­cen­tives are log­i­cal if they have caveats to re­tain busi­ness, said Diriker.

Diriker’s last piece of ad­vice fo­cused on ed­u­ca­tion. There is an ed­u­ca­tional deficit on the shore, said Diriker. Our stu­dents get ed­u­ca­tion, go to col­lege and of­ten stay away, find­ing they have bet­ter job and hous­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties else­where; ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing per pupil has gone down. Iron­i­cally though, said Diriker, ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment has man­aged to rise to some de­gree — although over­all ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment is still lower on the Eastern Shore com­par­a­tively, with the ex­cep­tion of Tal­bot and Worch­ester coun­ties — some­how we are do­ing a lit­tle bet­ter [for our stu­dents] with less money.

Diriker en­cour­aged think­ing on these ques­tions, “Are we teach­ing our stu­dents how to learn? Are we in­vest­ing in our people with the right kind of cer­tifi­cate and train­ing pro­grams? The value of skilled ap­pren­tice­ship pro­grams is in­valu­able.”

PHOTOS BY HAN­NAH COMBS

Jim DiDonato, pres­i­dent of Mal­lard Con­struc­tion Group in Ch­ester, a fam­ily-owned com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in commercial and res­i­den­tial land devel­op­ment.

Steve Pen­ning­ton, manag­ing direc­tor, Busi­ness and In­dus­try Sec­tor Devel­op­ment for the Mary­land Depart­ment of Com­merce, ad­dresses busi­ness own­ers and lo­cal of­fi­cials.

Busi­ness own­ers and lo­cal of­fi­cials gather at the Eco­nomic Out­look Sym­po­sium pre­sented by the Queen Anne’s County Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Com­mis­sion.

PHOTOS BY HAN­NAH COMBS

Found­ing Direc­tor of the Busi­ness, Eco­nomic and Community Out­reach Net­work (BEA­CON), Dr. Memo Diriker ad­vises the group in at­ten­dance at the Eco­nomic Out­look Sym­po­sium on lo­cal, na­tional and global eco­nom­ics.

Eric Hoff­man, chair­man of the Queen Anne’s County Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Com­mis­sion, wel­comes guests to the Eco­nomic Sym­po­sium at the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay En­vi­ron­men­tal Cen­ter on Tues­day, March 21.

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