Universities to study St. Mary’s economy -- Gazette.Net


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Two universities will study the economic climate of St. Mary’s County, and how it can move forward and away from being so reliant on federal government spending.

It is often said that 80 to 85 percent of St. Mary’s County’s economy depends on Patuxent River Naval Air Station, and its 22,000 jobs, though that actual number is not easily obtained, local officials say.

The University of Maryland’s $86,796 contract is to prepare a comprehensive economic development strategy — called a CEDS — for St. Mary’s, which will include a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats report on the local economy.

Towson University will be paid $61,312 to create an inventory of existing businesses in St. Mary’s and how to deal with fewer federal dollars in the coming the decades as military budgets tighten.

Commissioners Larry Jarboe (R) and Dan Morris (R) voted against the work Tuesday, when the other three commissioners finalized the contracts.

Robin Finnacom, acting director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic and Community Development, said the University of Maryland “is best suited to help us with the CEDS.”

The work will provide background studies for an economic strategy including data on demographics, land use, transportation and existing businesses.

The strengths and weaknesses report will look at the county’s business types and who the vendors are, looking at both the high-tech industry and rural economic development.

Towson ’s work “will examine the economic and fiscal impacts to St. Mary’s County for the next 20 years resulting from sequestration and Pentagon draw down,” a memorandum to the county commissioners said.

The Southern Maryland Navy Alliance already received $75,000 from the commissioners to produce a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats report on Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

The comprehensive economic development strategy “encompasses all aspects of the county,” Commissioner Todd Morgan (R), a defense contractor program manager, said. “We’re starting to reflect on the needs of the county as a whole.”

“It’s about our entire economic spectrum in St. Mary’s County,” Finnacom said.

The county commissioners already set aside $250,000 to get started on this work.

Morris said he wanted to see a “more practical method” and “take one at a time. I think it will be too confusing. You’ve got too much on the table for me.”

“It is a lot,” Finnacom said. “This is a tremendous amount of work. What is outlined is complimentary studies. They do not overlap.”

An existing business inventory for St. Mary’s will be created, which the economic and community development office does not currently have, other than looking in the phone book, Finnacom said.

“If we do not get this underway … we’ll probably be behind the 8-ball,” Commissioner Cindy Jones (R). “I would be very cautious not to pull the trigger on this. We really can’t wait to get these things underway.”

“I know where I’m at: St. Mary’s County, Maryland,” Morris said. “What I want to know is where do we go from here. I think it’s a shotgun, scattered approach.”

Jarboe said he would prefer the money go to St. Mary’s public schools, “as opposed to the University of Maryland or Towson.”

jbabcock@somdnews.com