Symposium outlines economic growth potential
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.”
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.
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.