County, city economic panel to be phased out

Posted: February 21, 2014

The Winchester Star

The Winchester-Frederick County Economic Commission offices at 45 E. Boscawen St. are shown. The group is being absorbed into the FrederickCounty Economic Development Authority. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
PatrickBarker
Jim Deskins

WINCHESTER — A joint venture between the city of Winchester and Frederick County of more than 30 years is being dissolved.

The Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission is in the process of being absorbed into the Frederick County Economic Development Authority.

Winchester already has its own EDA. Frederick’s EDA replaces its Industrial Development Authority.

The name change was recommended by the Frederick County Business Climate Assessment Citizen Committee, also referred to as the Business Friendly Committee. That body was formed by the Frederick County Board of Supervisors in October 2012 to evaluate local government procedures.

“The EDA provides a bit more flexibility as to dealing with prospective businesses and retention of existing businesses within the county,” Frederick County Administrator John Riley said Thursday. “It puts an added emphasis on retail and commercial expansion, attraction and retention. More so, it provides a vehicle to incorporate the EDC under the EDA organization moving forward.

“[The EDA has the] option of issuing bonds, acquiring property, all of the opportunities that are available to economic development entities.”

Riley doesn’t expect the county EDA to start buying property to market to developers.

“We have for years in this particular county chosen not to get on a competitive basis with private industrial parks by owning parks and competing against them,” he said. “Ours is more market-driven.”

According to Riley, who serves as secretary for the EDA, the dissolution of the EDC should be complete by July 1 — the start of a new fiscal year.

“During that period, we will transition in providing information and updates to the new EDA as to how they will function moving forward,” he said. “The EDC will be the EDA. It just won’t be a joint entity [with the city] anymore.”

The EDC staff will become the staff for the EDA, Riley said.

“I believe the responsibilities will be quite similar to what they are currently doing, and will just be focused on the Frederick County economic development effort,” he said.

Winchester was asked if they wished to participate in the new EDA.

“But, they’ve declined, thereby having the memorandum of agreement [effectively] dissolved that created the joint venture back in the mid-80s,” Riley said.

He said $491,648 was budgeted for the EDC this year.

The Joint Finance Committee for the city and county this week was presented with a memorandum of understanding to dissolve the EDC, City Manager Dale Iman said. He said the memorandum will now go before both the City Council and the Board of Supervisors.

“I believe [the county] contacted our EDA and went over some of these proposals, but at this point, the city’s position is we will conduct our economic [development] efforts through our economic development authority,” Iman said.

Jim Deskins is the executive director of the Winchester Economic Development Authority, in addition to being the director of the city’s economic redevelopment.

“I think [it’s] probably a move that will help the county in terms of economic development, and certainly won’t have any negative impact on the city,” Iman said.

Deskins said Thursday that the city’s EDA will be able to take on any responsibilities the EDC had been performing for the city.

“Whatever services that were secured from the EDC will be handled, and generally those related to areas of workforce development and some work with larger existing businesses and business retention, we’re positioned to assume that,” he said.

It will mean some changes, however.

“We’re probably going to change our program, and we’re probably going to really focus more on large employers in the city,” Deskins said.

More time will be spent talking to diverse businesses, including large retailers, rather than focusing as much on manufacturers.

“Other than that, I don’t think there’s going to be much disruption at all, if any,” Deskins said. “Our city’s recent strategic plan identified major retail attraction strategies that they wanted us to work on.”

Those strategies include getting a feel of the retail market, seeing how current retailers are doing, finding out what the city can do to improve the business climate and determining what retail is still needed.

“That’s sort of a new direction that we’re going to be taking,” Deskins said.

The city is heavily focused right now on redeveloping the Federal Mogul property on Pleasant Valley Road, across from Walmart. The local plant, which manufactured heavy-duty brake shoes and pads, shut down about a year ago.

That’s a very high priority for us,” Deskins said. “We think that the property is in a position to be converted into retail. Right now, we’re working with [Federal Mogul] to rezone that property.”

The zoning would go from intense manufacturing to business.

“The owners, they were willing to do that because they understand it’s not going to be a manufacturing site,” Deskins said.

Only half of the 40-acre site can be used, with the remainder being capped due to industrial waste.

Deskins would like to see a Sam’s Club built on the property.

“Where else could you do a brownfield redevelopment that’s in that kind of a location?” he said.

Deskins sees the EDC/EDA changes as a positive.

“My guess is that the county will be gaining a lot more capacity in terms of authority and legal capacity,” he said.

EDC Executive Director Patrick Barker said he is excited about the shift. He said he has two full-time employees and two part-timers.

“I’m excited for the potential new tools that may come from this evolution,” he said Thursday.

This isn’t the first time the county and city relationship through the EDC has been in question.

“Several years back, we went a whole year without any funding from the city,” Barker said. “Economic development is a tenuous subject for a lot of localities. It’s where they get their revenue. It’s a competitive factor.”

Barker said the EDC staff remains proud of its achievements, including helping to bring hundreds of new jobs through recent business expansions and new industry to the region, as well as developing business retention programs. The Winchester Metropolitan Statistical Area has also received a “top-tier” ranking for new job creation and capital investment on a per-capita basis.

— Contact Sally Voth at svoth@winchesterstar.com