Privately Run Economic Development Office Considered

December 08, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

The county commissioners, hoping to save money and boost business development in Carroll, are considering turning the Office of Economic Development over to the business community.

"I would tend to lean that way," Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said last week from the Maryland Association of Counties convention in Hagerstown, Washington County. "I think there is some place for the agency, but how andwhere it would work best to increase economic activity is up for discussion."

Carroll is the second county in the metropolitan area to considersevering economic development efforts from government.

Howard County Executive Charles Ecker last month announced he was studying the possibility of incorporating Howard's $335,000-a-year economic officeinto a private, non-profit company.

Howard's economic developmentdirector, Dyan L. Brasington, told The Sun last month that she favors such a move.

Doing so, she said, would place "the agency at arm's length from the politics of local government."

Carroll's Office of Economic Development, the agency responsible for recruiting business and industry to locate within Carroll, has a $211,000 annual budget and a staff of four.

Abolishing the office and turning it over to the private sector is just one option, the commissioners said last week.

"I think economic development is something local government should have a hand in," said Commissioner Julia W. Gouge. "The way I would look at it is how can we tie with the private sector so that wecan do the marketing and training and recruiting that is necessary."

Helen Utz, executive director of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, agreed that more money needs to be found for economic development.

Earlier this year, the chamber looked into forming a non-profit foundation to augment the county's economic development efforts.

"We have looked at the possibility of putting something together that would help the Office of Economic Development in its efforts," she said. "With the county budget the way it is, this would be a way toprovide the funds that are needed to finance their efforts."

l Asit stands now, Carroll's fully government-funded economic development office is a rarity among the 3,000 counties nationwide that have business-enhancing activities.

According to James C. Threatte, the county's economic development director, about 18 percent of those activities are paid for solely by government. Another 38 percent are financed by private business and government. The remainder are paid for by the business community.

Several years ago, Threatte suggested the move toward more involvement of the business community in economic development efforts.

"I believe you can get better participation if you join together," Threatte said. "In times like these, you noticethat economic development is a long-term prospect.

"It does not lend itself real well to a yearly budget."

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said he hopes to determine the benefits of economic development efforts here and find ways to save the county money.

"We have to look at the value of economic development," he said. "We have to see ifthe county can afford to fund it, or if there are better ways of going about it."

None of the commissioners say economic development will be scrapped entirely.

"I am 100 percent convinced that we can't just shut it down," Dell said.

The commissioners expect to studythe issue for several more months. Since taking office a year ago, they have confronted an almost endless stream of budget shortfalls andhave been looking everywhere to trim the county's $115 million in operating expenses.

"We have to cut where we can, and where it wouldmake sense," Lippy said.

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