Greater Chestertown Initiative Questions for County Commissioner Candidates: Economic Growth

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Editor’s Note: The Greater Chestertown Initiative worked this summer on a series of questions for the candidates running for one of three Kent County Commissioners to be elected in November. Over the next four weeks, the Spy will share the candidates responses to one of those questions every Monday.

Economic Growth

The Kent County Economic Development Strategic Plan 2017 prioritizes business expansion, retention and attraction. What’s your unique vision for economic growth, and what would you expect as outcomes in 5 to 10 years?

• What proactive strategies will you implement to recruit businesses appropriate to the county?

• What is one economic initiative the commissioners should launch in their first 120 days in office that would encourage economic growth in the county?

• What is your plan for creating a business friendly, economic development program for small businesses moving to our county as they deal with county rules and regulations?

Ron Fithian (Incumbent) 

The sitting Commissioner’s have put the high speed internet throughout Kent County. This will become a very valuable tool in attracting different businesses to Kent County. We have also updated our Comprehensive Plan, making it clear that especially the 301/291 interchange area is open for business/residential development in an attempt to receive any spillover growth from the Middletown area.

We have worked hard in an attempt to revisit the rules and regulations to prevent Kent County from being suffocated due to unnecessary rules. We should continue that going forward.

We have increased our Economic Development Dept. staff to be able to better serve any small business moving into the County. They are well versed in working any new business through the regulatory process and make the owners aware of any beneficial programs available

Bob Jacob 

Economic growth in Kent County is why I joined the Economic Development 5 years ago.  I look at Economic growth two ways. The first way is the business’s in the county. We live in a unique county and probably the most environmentally correct county in the state of Maryland. Therefore, I chose to live here and have a business here.

In 5 to 10 years I would expect to add 3 to 5 million to the county revenue to keep up with inflation and provide the county with services. This also translates into 1,000 to 1,500 families.

Retention is always the top priority of a county when it comes to business. Money spent in economic development always get more bang for the buck when trying to retain business over recruiting new. With that said we still need to recruit new businesses. The new fiber optic that was ran in the county creates an opportunity to bring in specific businesses. The 7 million dollars that the county spent will never be recouped the way things are moving forward. From a business stand point I don’t think there will be enough residents to justify the cost of the project unless we bring in some businesses.

For people that live down Cliff City to St. Paul’s or the outskirts of Worton to Bettertown it could be years or perhaps some new Technology that could bridge the gap. This would also be one of my first things to do in the first 120 days. I would instruct the Economic Commission to work with Scott Boone and members of Score to write a business plan on what needs to be done to make this project pay for itself. The other part of the equation is the cost of what businesses pay to hook up to the fiber. East Coast storage and its other location on Talbot Avenue were quoted $17,000 plus a monthly cost. Another Business I am friends with is using the 1 gig (1,000 mbps) at almost $500 per month. There are not a lot of businesses that can afford that. If we don’t have more people utilize this fiber the tax payer is only supplementing the few that have it. I Have been using Delmarva Wi-Fi myself on Mary Morris road since the collapse of Wave Vision and I can’t justify the increased monthly charge as well as the cost of installation.

Kent County does not have a large work force. When companies look to move to an area they look at the size of the work force and the education/skills of the work force. As commissioner I would direct the economic commission to target any business’s that fits with in the planning and zoning of the county. Businesses that bring in outside money are the best as compared to business’s that recycle money from within the county. Kent County is a very beautiful county and the planning and zoning office has enough checks and balances in place for review of new businesses. That I would look at any new business and not narrow any search. We have already eliminated ourselves from large business’s moving here with our small population but nitch business’s like my own are perfect for the area where companies can perform internal training. One example of us having a nitch business that the county illuminated ourselves is Mother’s Smuckers. They bought the yellow building on Rte. 20 (8779 Rock Hall Rd, 21620) next to Fairlee and the cost of the build out was way too much for their business plan. The owners already lived in Kent County and sell to many other Kent County businesses. Rather than have another derelict building in our county, I would have tried to work the requirements out needed for planning and zoning to fit in the business plan of Mother Smuckers (for example).

The other way I look at economic growth is that little is gained for the county unless the owners and employees live here. The county does collect the property tax from the business that is based here but does not collect the income tax from the owner unless they live here. As far as employees, all these jobs only help the county revenue if they live here. Property tax and income tax account for 91 percent of the county revenue. The other 9 percent are fee’s and things which are typically used to slow economic growth but because of Kent Counties tight budget they have become absolutely critical in the budgeting process. We must change the revenue in the county and still maintain our identity as a farming community. You can only make so many cuts to the budget so many times. We don’t have a spending problem in Kent County, we have a revenue problem.

Tom Mason

The way for our county to have the funds to support schools, parks, public works and other essential county departments is to expand our business base. For far too long, Kent County has stagnated and refused or made it difficult for current businesses to expand or new businesses to locate here. In my first 120 days in office, I would direct our county economic development department to advertise in appropriate business publications and internet sites and any other means they feel appropriate, that Kent County is open for business. With our strategic location on Route 301 close to the new Middletown, Del. bypass, we are an ideal location for small and/or medium size technology and environmentally friendly businesses.

We must be sure that our county rules and regulations do not cause businesses to turn their backs on us. In the past Kent County has been known as a difficult area for new business to locate. This perception must change for the county to move forward. When we expand our business base, I believe we will grow our population as people realize how great a place our wonderful county is to live. At the same time we must not harm our agricultural and water industries that are so important to Kent County.

William Pickrum (Incumbent) 

My vision is driven by countless hours of discussions with residents and their interest in economic growth. The residents interest frames my vision for economic growth in Kent County. As a result, in 5 to 10 years, Kent County will be at full employment, surpassing the rest of the state.

Economic development has been at my forefront since being elected a Commissioner. One of the elements in my vision has been internet access. Internet access was part of my first campaign and I’ve continued to build upon these past years. Economic growth comes about through providing the elements desired by any organization desiring to move its operations to the county. Local government should put all the pieces to encourage economic growth in place and help develop businesses. Government should encourage local business development. This growth is facilitated by having a robust infrastructure and employable workforce. Our infrastructure is being transformed by the development of our 1 gigabyte internet. This allows 21st century businesses to work in and from Kent County.

Any business that may be concerned with the type of government there is in the County. I recommended and was adopted, the live streaming of the Commissioner’s meetings to promote transparency. Any potential business can view what type of government there is in the County and attend the Commissioner’s meetings.

One of the important elements of economic development is a viable workforce. We must improve the employability of our citizens by offering training in the jobs of tomorrow, as well as, the jobs of today, through our public schools, Chesapeake College and Washington College. I will continue to work with the school board and college presidents to establish a collective vision in their role in economic development.

We can’t build better communities if our neighbors don’t have jobs, safe and affordable housing, and legitimate opportunities to establish stable wealth for their families. That is why we need a robust economic development plan – one which works for everyone.

• What proactive strategies will you implement to recruit businesses appropriate to the county?

• Partner with the Maryland Department of Licensing, Labor, and Regulation (DLLR) to ensure current and potential businesses have immediate access to the best workforce training opportunities available. If we invest in our people, we can reduce unemployment and expand opportunity for all.

• Empower our small, and female business owners through smart policies and programs. We must train our budding entrepreneurs and make it easier for their businesses to grow through coordinating local services.

• We have re-established the Revolving Loan fund as a vehicle for small business loans.

• The Economic Development staff is being increased with a new title for the Coordinator to Director. This staff will be empowered to do much more outreach. We have increased the resources to support their work.

• When the opportunity avails itself, I will accompany the Economic Development Director to visit the potential businesses, as part of the recruitment strategy.

• Assist the Economic Development Director with:

• The retention, expansion, and attraction of businesses in the County.

• The dissemination of information in the interest of economic development by publication, advertising, or other means.

• To ensure local businesses are aware of any local, state, and federal government funding sources (loans and grants) for business growth and retention.

 I propose the establishment of a more robust Economic Development Commission charged to:

• Promote cooperation between County departments, municipal and state governments.

• Provide an annual review of the County economic development strategic plan, which will include benchmarks for retaining and growing existing businesses. The plan will promote economic growth in the County for the short-term (one- to three-year) and long-term (four- to ten-year) horizons.

• I voted to establish a business incubator in the County. I will propose to expand our business development incubator to include more training and assistance for small businesses in the county and those that may locate to Kent County.

There have not been any recommendations by the current Economic Development Commission that have not been considered by the County Commissioners. Ineffective members will not be re-appointed. The County Commissioners kept KRM (Dixon Valve) here when they were seriously considering moving to Smyrna, DE. We went to the Maryland Department of Commerce and negotiated Tax increment financing (TIF). A TIF is a public financing method that is used as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure. This saved over 200 jobs in the county.

• What is one economic initiative the commissioners should launch in their first 120 days in office that would encourage economic growth in the county?

In the first 120 days, it is feasible to partner with DLLR and their already existing programs for business development and workforce training.

• What is your plan for creating a business friendly, economic development program for small businesses moving to our county as they deal with county rules and regulations?

My plan is:

• Review existing rules and regulations, accessing their impact on local businesses. Some of these may have unintended consequences.

• Empower the Economic Development Director and staff to welcome every business moving to the County, orientating them to the County and its business environment.

• Annually review our regulations and ordinances to access any hardships and barriers to small business growth inconsistent with the public welfare.

Bill Short (Incumbent) 

My vision for Economic Growth is Sustainable Growth in designated areas of the County. We must use the resources we have available such as the 301 corridor as well as Fiber Infrastructure to expand the Millington Area. Expansion in this area of the County is a win-win, while developing an underutilized area we will still be preserving the rich agricultural heritage of the County. I have worked hard to pass legislation that conforms with the updated Comprehensive Plan for Kent County. Zoning changes within the County were needed to encourage and enhance business growth. To increase growth in portions of Worton, Chestertown, and Millington, where zoning permits,

I have worked to create a Commerce Zone and an Enterprise Zone as well as an Arts and Entertainment District. Through the creation of these zones and districts businesses are incentivized to move to and expand within Kent County through the implementation of several different tax incentives. State regulations have played a big part in slowing the process of moving the County forward when it comes to new business. I have spent numerous hours in Annapolis supporting bills that help loosen the restraints put on businesses small and large in the County. The restaurant industry has struggled to meet state regulations on several levels in Kent County, effective this past July 1, through our efforts in Annapolis those regulations have been relaxed. Engaging with current and potential business owners is imperative to remain knowledgeable about the challenges they face so that as a County Commissioner I can advocate on their behalf, not just at the County level but also at the state level. Changes are happening, as Governor Hogan says, we are open for business!

Tom Timberman

Q. What proactive strategies will you implement to recruit businesses appropriate to the county?

A. One of the County’s root problems is the lack of growth in the tax-paying business community, which is largely responsible for the static revenue curve. The declining and aging population, reinforce this trend.

One of my first actions would be to form a public/private sector committee made up of representatives of the major contributors to Kent’s annual revenues and the principal demographic slices of our population. This committee will be charged to define the characteristics of “appropriate” employers to recruit. My own preference is health care providers, particularly the Federal Veterans Affairs Department, which provides medical care to veterans through many local facilities.

However, I would also address a related, but somewhat separate issue and that is the tourist industry in Kent County. The infrastructure (accommodations, restaurants, cafes, bars) needs to be expanded and become more County-wide and less Chestertown, focused. Family visitors to Kent County should be able to find affordable places to stay, eat and visit.

  1. Establish a committee of experts to develop a living marketing plan to recruit the type of businesses identified above.  It would draw on public sector members, Washington College and the large retired community with its substantial business and economic experience.  The committee would have a budget and a deadline for an initial draft report for Commission and public review and then a final plan incorporating sound recommendations.  The committee would have a time line across which goals are reached.

The committee’s substantive work would begin by considering:  (1) the tax and other inducements the County and town governments can offer to prospective employers; (2) a description of the quality-of-life advantages the County offers businesses, their employees’ and families; (3) the advantages of Kent County’s proximity to 12 million potential urban clients: (4) the selection of good public and private local schools: (5) Washington College (founded 1784) and its WCALL syllabus: (6) adequate health care for all ages;  (7) more affordable housing, (8) natural beauty, (9) opportunities for water and land recreation; and (10) the well-established art and music scene for adults and children.

Particularly significant for business owners is to know Kent County is unique in rural America.  It offers an advanced, 21st Century optical fiber network with available gigabit (1000 megabit) that provides the public school system a fully-digital educational platform for all grades.  The plan must include a budget and implementation schedule (both public/private sector based)

  1. What is your plan for creating a business-friendly, economic development program for small businesses moving to our county as they deal with county rules and regulations?
  2. First, I will not limit the marketing plan to small businesses because medium-size firms offer more jobs and employee benefits, including training and education opportunities.

Investors have told me our County and town regulations and processes are complicated, time-consuming and discouraging.  

To verify this anecdotal information, I will initiate a survey to test them at the County and municipal levels.  Then using the findings, work to streamline county requirements and synchronize them with the 5 incorporated towns. Accelerated processing could be offered to

Investors based on certain criteria: (1) dollar amount of investment, (2) number of local jobs created, (3) career advancement and (4) educational or training opportunities.    

As these changes are finalized, they will become part of the living marketing plan described above.

I will also include a host/sponsor program with established residents who can introduce potential investors to the business community and to the unique qualities of life available in Kent County.  

  

 

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