Food for thought in jobs chase

December 27, 1993

There should be no second-guessing and glum recriminations over the county's failure to land a major food distribution center and 200 new jobs in Hampstead, losing the economic prize to Washington County. The factors that persuaded DOT Foods Inc. to relocate to Hagerstown were mostly beyond the control of Carroll County and its current economic development offensive.

The Illinois wholesaler, one of the targets of a well-publicized development trip by the county commissioners to Chicago this summer, was reportedly impressed by the Carroll proposal and the enthusiasm of local officials.

The Hampstead property in the Trenton Business Center offered in-place utilities, sewer and water, access roads, an adjacent rail line and proximity to two interstate highways. The county was prepared to provide fast-track permit approval, worker training funds, and to make public infrastructure improvements

The Hagerstown site offered better access to two main interstates, an existing cold-food storage facility, and -- perhaps most important -- lower wages and state Enterprise Zone tax credits of $500,000 over 10 years for the new employer.

That should create no envy on the part of Carroll County. Washington County's unemployment rate is 80 percent higher than Carroll's, the reason it qualifies for the Enterprise Zone incentives. On the contrary, it "proves Carroll is healthy economically," noted Robert A. "Max" Bair, who heads county development efforts.

Lower wages in Hagerstown reflect the decline of industry in that area, no cause for civic celebration. In fact, the experience points out that the prevalence of labor unions does not necessarily mean a higher overall wage level: three times as many Washington County companies have unions as do Carroll employers, which DOT Food said was a major concern but one outweighed by the lower wage rates.

The other consideration was the easier access to interstate highways in Hagerstown. It's another indictment of Carroll's tTC Route 30 bottleneck and the transportation problems in the north county. Without serious improvements in that key transportation artery, the area's industrial potential cannot be fully realized, regardless of other economic advantages and incentives.

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