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Restoring the confidence of the business community in county government

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Ok, so election day has passed … almost two weeks ago!  The local pundits have done their share Monday morning quarterbacking on the near full sweep of Republicans into all local offices.  Of course I have my opinions, but  that is not the focus of this piece.

So with the dust now settling, I thought I’d throw out some thoughts and ideas on how our new Board of County Commissioners should tackle one of their biggest campaign promises: Making Frederick County a more friendly place to do business.

In my last post on (also featured on the MacRo Report Blog) entitled Getting Back to Business, I hit on the layers of regulations and insurmountable hurdles that the business community has had to endure with planning and zoning matters, as well as the impressions that they have been left with when having to deal with staff and Planning Commission appointees.  The latter of which is a cultural issue of course and to be changed, the Young board must lead by example.

On that note, the article did yield a few responses from County staff and others.  The general impression I was left with is that staff does want to play ball with this new board, stating that the rigidity of the regulations often put them in no-win situations when attempting to find solutions.  This, I was encouraged to hear.

Getting back to the business community, many have shared their ideas with me about what the Young administration should do improve this relationship:

  1. Appoint a Charter Government task force right away
  2. Waste no time to improve permit processing
  3. Start cutting spending
  4. Heads must roll
  5. Restore the zoning of those property owners who were negatively impacted by the last board

… and the list goes on, but with that said while the sound bites roll in, it might be a good idea for this new board to take a more organized and strategic approach to getting a real sense of things.  To that end I suggest that they leaf through the pages of history and go back to the days of James R. Shaw, the County’s  Director of Planning back in the 1970′s and into the 1990′s.

Jim was without a doubt one of the very best business out-reach representatives that Frederick County government has ever known.  When faced with certain planning decisions, it was not uncommon for him to pick up the phone and contact members of the business or development communities to seek some real world insight when crafting planning and zoning policies.  Of course those days were lost when former County Commissioner John “Lennie” Thompson rode into office on his theme of “If developers win, you lose.”

So, I’m suggesting that this new board immediately organize some outreach gatherings of their own — while throwing an announcement in the paper is a good idea, pick up the phone and make some calls to extend personal invitations to a cross section of the community in order to garner in a structured manner real world frustrations, praises and suggestions.

Here are a couple of ideas:

  1. Go through the files of those who have been before the Planning Commission with site plans — the winners and losers.
  2. Do the same with engineers and land use attorneys
  3. Meet with the land development community
  4. Meet with commercial and residential building contractors
  5. Reach out to our major employers
  6. Pull in members of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce
  7. Hear from the commercial real estate brokerage community as to why some of their clients chose not to relocate to Frederick County

A lot of promises were made from this new board; so much is expected … and there is clearly a lot of “low hanging fruit” that can be addressed immediately to give a sense that they have “hit the ground running.” However in order to gain sustainable momentum, the Frederick community needs to truly feel that they are a part of the process.

Not unlike the work that goes into a successful strategic plan for business, where the preliminary stage is to gather information and insight from its stakeholders, our new board should consider undertaking a similar process that will send a clear signal that “If the business community wins, you win too!”

Authors Note: On Tuesday, November 16, 2010 the Frederick County Offices of Economic Development  and Permitting & Development Review sent out an invitation for the business community to participate in a Roundtable Discussion on Issues & Opportunities to Enhance Frederick County’s Business Friendly Environment.  The gathering will take place on Monday, November 22, 2010/ 9:00 – 10:30 a.m. at 30 N. Market Street, Basement Conference Room. 

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The author: Rocky Mackintosh, President, MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland.  He also writes for

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