Finding the right person for key job

May 25, 1994

Now that the Carroll County commissioners have decided to hire a full-time economic development director, they should not restrict their search to the confines of the county. Considering that this job is one of the most important posts in county government, they should cast a wide net and hire the most qualified candidate they can find.

Economic development is the engine that drives virtually any municipality. Retaining existing businesses and attracting new ones has a direct bearing on the county's economic health and its livability. Without a growing business, industrial and commercial tax base, Carroll's homeowners will have to pay higher taxes just to maintain the current level of county services; the county's youth will have to look elsewhere for work.

Local residency should not be the key criteria in searching for a county economic development director. Familiarity with Carroll County is desirable, but it is not as important as a person's ability to promote the county's quality of life and its ideal location for conducting business in the metropolitan corridor -- not just for new ventures but for existing operations as well.

This is one position in government where the right kind of person can make a tremendous impact. An economic development director must be a jack of many trades, possessing a broad vision of the county and its future as well as the ability to handle petty details such as the location of traffic signals and corporate driveways. The person needs to be a promoter, an organizer, a cutter of red tape and a packager of financing and other incentives.

Too often, economic development offices focus solely on courting companies looking for new production, distribution or sales locations and neglect the established businesses. Carroll has lost a number of well-paying manufacturing jobs over the past decade and can't afford to lose any more.

Regardless of who is chosen to fill the job, the commissioners should not expect an overnight improvement in the county's economic fortunes. Despite the best efforts of a depleted economic development staff during the past two years, the county's business promotion efforts have been the equivalent of treading water. After the experience of the past several years, making headway will take time.

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