County Comment: County Economic Development Remains Strong

County Comment
County Economic Development Remains Strong
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

Washington County's economic health is good, says Tim Troxell, Executive Director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission (EDC).
"Economic Development has remained strong. Even though we've seen a slowdown in residential construction in Washington County, the Commercial and Industrial sector has continued to move along at a nice pace," Troxell said. "In 2006, we announced 45 new projects that were coming to the community and about 1,000 new jobs were associated with those projects. In 2007, new prospect activity has remained strong."
There are a number of large projects under construction," he said. "Two just broke ground in the last week or two. One of those is the Cinetics Landis Grinding project, a manufacturer currently located in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. They are going to be relocating into a new facility in Washington County to improve the efficiency of their manufacturing operation."
Liberty Property Trust's project also recently got underway. It will eventually contain almost 2 million square feet of warehouse distribution space.
The retail sector continues to expand, with several new shopping areas being built including Stonehouse Square near the Longmeadow Shopping Center and a new phase of the Centre at Hagerstown. A new Lowe's Home Improvement Center, and a Best Buy store are two of the retail merchants highlighting those developments.
Recently, a ground breaking for new Wet Labs at Hagerstown Community College's business incubator was held. The facility will help attract biotechnology firms to the area.
"One of the evolutions we've seen moving out of the I-270 corridor has been the biotech sector," Troxell said, "and it's one that Washington County would like to be involved in."
"What we found about the biotechnology cluster is that companies in that industry like to be located around themselves. They don't like to be the Lone Ranger out in a community," he said. "For Washington County to become a player, we need to create our own biotechnology cluster. We see the Wet labs at the Technical Innovation Center as our first step"
Troxell said that the labs could serve to attract entrepreneurs that will work on their products, and then commit resources in Washington County, building facilities and creating high-tech jobs.
In February, a feasibility study presented to the County Commissioners indicated that Washington County would be a prime location for a biodiesel refining plant. Local farmers could benefit by selling soybeans to the plant. A group of investors are putting together a financing package at this time, Troxell said.
Troxell said that the single greatest economic project at this time is conversion of the former Fort Ritchie Army post into a research and development office complex that will be a community unto itself. Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) is redeveloping the Fort, which was closed as part of the federal government's Base Realignment and Closure project in the mid-90's.
"They (COPT) are planning to make significant investments into that area," Troxell said. "It will be a place where you can live work and play. They are estimating they are going to spend approximately two hundred and fifty million dollars in bringing that facility up to date. They are estimating that they will be creating in excess of 4,500 new jobs, with the business that will locate there. They will be building somewhere around 1,700,000 feet of new office, retail, commercial, and industrial space. There will also be over 600 residences," he said.
Troxell said that revitalization of Fort Ritchie/Cascade would help move the entire area forward.
"The former Fort Ritchie area, I believe, will once again become a very prominent area, with a lot of opportunities for not only citizens of Washington County, but those in Frederick County and Franklin County, Pennsylvania," Troxell said.