Happy New Year from the Chamber of Commerce! As we settle into our routines for 2013, the new year will look pretty much like the old one. Economic recovery continues in Washington County, but it remains incremental and painfully slow. The New Year brings with it, however, some economic bright spots worthy of a holiday celebration.
• New economic development — After reshuffling the county’s economic development office last year, local officials have dedicated untold time, talent and treasure to building a 21st century pro-business environment that will attract new companies and boost job creation.
Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED), and Washington County only stands to benefit.
Late last year, Dominick Murray took over the helm of DBED, bringing to the post years of experience making deals and creating jobs in Maryland. Murray is no stranger to Washington County, and we look forward to working with him in the year ahead.
• Lower unemployment — the economic picture for 2013, if uneven for individual Marylanders, looks promising for the state as a whole. With unemployment lower than it was a year ago and the Fed promising to keep interest rates low well into the future, Maryland has the key ingredients to speed up its economic recovery. The same is true for Washington County. Though some key measures have yet to rebound, our unemployment numbers are down, retail and tourism remain strong, and we continue to position ourselves as the logical extension of the I-270 technology corridor.
• The new library — one of downtown Hagerstown’s economic anchors will reopen its doors this year when the new library system completes the $20 million rebuild of its main branch. The new building will serve not only its traditional patrons but also a new breed of library users, with a dependence on technology and a broad definition of the word “book.”
As part of the Barbara Ingram School’s virtual campus and a meeting place for community groups, the new library will go a long way to becoming the much talked about “third place” for students, residents and downtown shoppers. And with annual visits measured in the hundreds of thousands, the library will pull into Hagerstown discretionary income they will help drive the success of other downtown businesses.
• Senator Mikulski — in December, Maryland’s Sen. Barbara Mikulski assumed the chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee and became the second most influential member of the United States Senate, behind the Majority Leader.
In her new job, she will oversee every dime of congressional spending, giving her not only enormous say over money spent in Maryland, but also the ability to bargain with other senators for Maryland’s advantage.
West Virginia’s Senator Robert Byrd held the same position intermittently from the late 1980s until 2009, and we in Western Maryland have only to look across the Potomac to see the benefit he brought to his home state.
Hagerstown and Washington County are well positioned to leverage our economic advantages in 2013.
By cultivating our relationships across the state and speaking with one voice as a community, we can make the New Year one of prosperity for everyone who works or lives in Washington County.
Brien Poffenberger is president of the Hagerstown/Washington County Chamber of Commerce.