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January 9, 2015

County officials hear economic development strategies

As posted online in by Josh Bollinger –

CAMBRIDGE — County officials sat in Wednesday Jan. 7 during the Maryland Association of Counties Winter Conference in Cambridge to listen about what economic development strategies have been working in urban, suburban and rural areas all across the state, and how they might be able to apply those strategies to their own home counties.

According to Lawrence Twele, CEO of economic development in Howard County, economic development is really about transforming lives.

“It creates opportunities. It provides jobs. It creates that wealth. It inspires innovation. It helps smart entrepreneurs take their ideas and turn them into products, services and technologies that solve problems,” Twele said. “It’s about enriching the community through smart redevelopment through building wealth. It’s about helping families create opportunities for their children.”

Economic development leaders stressed not only the importance of economic development in all areas of the state in how it relates to building and enriching communities, but also how it helps residents of those communities.

They spoke on efforts that have been working.

President and CEO of the Baltimore Development Corp. William Cole talked about a 15-year tax credit in Baltimore City that offers owners of unoccupied office buildings an incentive to convert the unused space into apartments, due to the city’s growing residential needs.

Dorchester County Economic Development Director Keasha Haythe spoke on what can and is being done in rural areas to promote economic development and advance communities.

Haythe said the foundations and principles of economic development are part of what leaders value — education, community development, quality of life. She said it’s “the thread that connects everything, everyone and every industry.”

“That’s why rural communities in Maryland are creating opportunities and inspiring innovation and enriching communities through many economic development processes and strategies unique to their area,” Haythe said.

Haythe said rural economic development is focused on manufacturing, tourism, business incubators and branding strategies.

She said rural communities are capitalizing on their strengths by attracting and expanding manufacturing companies like Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Wicomico County, GKD Inc. in Dorchester County and Paul Reed Smith Guitars in Queen Anne’s County. She said those companies are manufacturing products that contribute to both the local and state economy.

On the tourism front, in 2014 Cambridge hosted IronMan Maryland and will continue over the next four years, “contributing $3.4 million to the Dorchester economy,” she said.

Business incubators are becoming more popular in rural jurisdictions. Dorchester County, in partnership with TEDCo and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, is working toward developing its own business incubator, which Haythe said will serve the Mid-Shore region.

The Eastern Shore Innovation Center will be located in the Dorchester Regional Technology Park and will house 15 companies, directly create 105 jobs, indirectly create 74 jobs and provide $10.7 million in projected salaries and benefits, according to Haythe.

Haythe said construction of the Mid-Shore business incubator is scheduled to start in March and be completed by the fall.

“Currently, there are nine interested companies that will sign lease agreement in the coming months to locate in the facility,” she said.

Small businesses drive growth, said Laurie Boyer, executive director of Rockville Economic Development Inc., who spoke on suburban economic development strategies.

Business incubators target these small businesses, which in turn helps the entire state by growing those jobs, Boyer said. There are incubators throughout the state, although some rural jurisdictions are just getting involved with them.

Another strategy commonly used to show the uniqueness of individual counties or states is branding, Haythe said. Haythe and other speakers, said there is no particular economic development strategy that will work for every county or region, but each county must capitalize on its own strengths.

Haythe said branding differentiates counties from others and strengthens economic development marketing efforts. Branding creates “a common identity among organizations promoting the community, leverage resources and reinforces the belief we are stronger together,” she said.

Dorchester County has branded itself, “Water Moves Us.” Haythe said that because Dorchester is a “stressed” county, it had to come up with initiatives that complement its strengths and attributes.

The county’s economic development office included “Water Moves Us” in all of its communication platforms. It has also used the faces of people from seven companies in a marketing effort to promote the county, at no cost to the businesses.

“Water — it’s our identity, our heritage, our opportunity,” she said.

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