- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
I was hired on a few months back as director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic and Community Development. I am writing to communicate with the citizens of the county to provide a sense of where we are and what we are doing.
This office is charged with responsibility for the local economy. The department is comprised of three divisions: business development, agriculture and seafood and tourism. We are also involved with the administration of the Community Development Corp., which in turn handles many of the issues surrounding and involving Lexington Park.
Our mission is straightforward: wealth creation through jobs and investment. The process of arriving at this is sometimes complex and requires a good deal of planning, effort and pure luck. Among other things, we are undertaking some basic steps to assist us in this process: identifying assets by establishing a baseline of companies; undertaking for the first time a business retention and expansion program; identifying trends in workforce and business to attract new companies; and expanding the entrepreneurial component of our economy. All the while we must also work to maintain the cultural integrity of the community that attracts so many who visit, work and stay here. In short, we have to move to diversify the foundation of the economy to better stabilize it and to provide even greater opportunities for our citizens.
Perhaps the outcomes will include the eventual presence of a major university, research and development, administrative, educational and government operations. The redevelopment of certain areas of the county is vital, and I am a strong believer in private sector input, more so than government-driven programs. It is only through a public-private partnership of sorts that any truly sustainable success might be obtained.
However, we have to focus our efforts on a collective approach that accomplishes not only the continued stability of the current economy but looks to business expansion and community enhancements.
In other aspects we have to improve our tourism and strengthen our agricultural and seafood sectors. These are not only important cultural components, but vital to our economic stability. An abundance of wildlife, water, farms and forests provides great opportunities to support our high quality of life in a time of reducing revenues.
To begin, the adjusted GDP for the county has been estimated at more than $20 billion, if including retained revenue and activities for Patuxent River Naval Air Station; 22,000-plus people are in the workforce on base with somewhere near a total of 50,000 in related and unrelated companies countywide. Median household income is fairly high: $82,000 versus the U.S. basis of $52,000. Median educational attainment is also fairly high: 30.5 percent with a bachelor’s degree or higher, only slightly above the national basis and does not reflect nonresidents working in the county.
Pax River and related activities are the chief drivers of St. Mary’s economy, but also demonstrate our greatest weakness: dependency on a single economic industry. Defense force reductions are likely due to the drawdown from the wars we have fought, but the base is well positioned to absorb many of the impending changes. We anticipate both losses and some growth in the coming year in employment both on and off the station.
St. Mary’s County is well placed in a globally competitive economy that requires action and appropriate strategies. It is the intention of the economic and community development to ensure we are up to the challenge. My staff and I welcome communication on any pertinent subject.
Steven J. Anderson, Leonardtown
The writer is director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic and Community Development.