- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A meeting between the Indian Head Planning Commission and Economic Development Commission last week focused on changing the perception of the town of Indian Head.
The two commissions met in November to discuss the town’s economy. This time, they had another ally.
Gary V. Hodge, who served as a county commissioner from 2006 to 2010, met with the Indian Head Town Council in its January work session to discuss the town’s economy and joined the panels March 19.
“This is really a question of how we move from a perception to a different kind of reality of what Indian Head could be,” Hodge, president of consulting firm Regional Policy Advisors, said at the meeting.
Hodge said he has spent his life “trying to move the pieces on the chess board to get from here to there and to mobilize and engage all of the players that need to be involved in getting you where you want to go.”
To begin any task, Hodge said policymakers must look at the past first, and one of the most memorable times for him was the three rounds of Base Realignment and Closure in the 1990s, with which Hodge was involved as a member of U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer’s team. BRAC occurs when the Department of Defense is looking for ways to reduce military expenditures, including by closing less-essential military bases.
“We won all three rounds,” Hodge said, despite the fact that many people thought it was impossible, “and we prevented the loss of Indian Head.” Naval Support Facility Indian Head provides 3,000 jobs today, Hodge said, “and we have the most important employer here.”
The concern for Hodge, he said, is that before the next round of BRAC occurs in 2017, analysts will drive down Indian Head Highway, and the “perception” they will get of the town as economically depressed. Hodge said he has never been comfortable that economic vitality and wealth are on one side of Charles County and not on the western side.
Hodge suggested a community development corporation for the town, including an individual paid by the town who is in charge of economic development, a point raised at the November joint meeting of the town’s economic development commission and planning commission.
Hodge also warned against shortsightedness and the town’s commissions and people thinking only within town limits when it comes to marketing. He suggested broader thinking by including an area within a 10- to 15-minute drive from town so as to include a larger population and additional assets, such as Maryland Airport. Marketing a larger population can help the town to attract a grocery store chain.
“What I’m trying to describe here is a challenge of saying how can we marshal the assets we have? How can we package a demographic and economic picture of our area that’s relevant to the people who have resources that we want here in Indian Head?” Hodge said.
Peggy Palmer, chairwoman of the town’s economic development commission, said she thinks the hardest part of the town’s revitalization is getting over where the town is right now and moving to the next step. She said it also is necessary to reach residents of the town, some of whom work in Washington, D.C., and return to their homes in Indian Head but do not know what is going on in the town. The town needs “manpower to get things done.”
“The startup [money] is the hardest part,” Palmer said. “Once you’ve got some momentum and you’ve got people” the task is easier. She said the town needs to be marketed to its own residents first.
Hodge said the town has to make a commitment, and that commitment will be its leverage “that brings other resources to the table” to enable the town to acquire help from the county and private sector. He said the town’s vision has to come from the town’s leaders and residents, and “pessimism is forbidden.” As an outsider, Hodge said he can help implement the vision.
Rick Allen, chairman of the town’s planning commission, said the town’s vision was created by the town council 20 years ago when he was on the planning commission, and the planning commission has been chasing that vision for 20 years.
“There’s no easy answer, and I know [Hodge does not] have an easy answer in this pile of paper,” Allen said. The town’s bodies and residents must find a course to be on and stay on that course, he said.
Palmer said the most common vision for the town now is the Indian Head Rail Trail, but some town residents do not even know it exists while people come from the District to enjoy the trail.
“The trail is a great example because the trail is a success story,” Hodge said of an initiative begun when he was a county commissioner.
Donald Anderson, a new member of the town’s economic development commission, lives in Prince George’s County and owns a townhouse in the Potomac Mews neighborhood, which he rents. He said vacant buildings in the town make the town “not attractive” to developers and business people.
“My point is it starts within,” Anderson said. “If the people within don’t care,” then an area becomes economically depressed.
Palmer said the town needs to invest in a person whose focus is on the town’s economic development. Allen said such an individual would create interest among the town’s residents and be proof that something is getting done.
The town’s economic development commission and planning commission plan to meet again in June.