On Nov. 10, the Charles County Economic Development Department hosted its 2020 fall meeting, joined by business leaders and community members virtually to provide an economic update on the county at a different pace amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The meeting, titled “Building a New and Better Normal,” began with Commissioner President Reuben B. Collins II (D) providing updates on the state of the county’s economy. Collins said the local government has made changes to ensure they can deliver services to both residents and businesses amid the pandemic, as well as continued discipline toward taxpayers.
“From an economic standpoint, we are all well positioned to sustain the impact of economic uncertainty,” Collins said.
Collins mentioned multiple developmental projects in the county, including a $2.9 million grant the county received in order to expand high-speed internet access into rural areas of the county, specifically Nanjemoy and the western end of the county. Collins said the broadband access was essential as more residents work, learn and manage small businesses from home.
The county has been able to shift tasks to a virtual platform, processing payments and permits, holding virtual meetings and responding to the community online. Collins credited Charles County Public Schools for making the investments to forward education in a virtual environment.
“COVID-19 outcomes are uncertain at this time, but I am proud of how our local government has responded and strong partnerships are essential in our efforts,” Collins said. “We have worked side by side with federal, state and local government agencies to protect public safety and ensure our local economy’s recovery.”
Economic Development Department Director Darrell Brown highlighted the department’s redirected efforts to business retention initiatives. Brown said the department has redirected efforts to help local businesses to ensure the best chance for economic recovery and continued growth, including constantly updating information on resources for local businesses through online, social media and paid advertisements.
Brown said that with the grant program through the CARES Act, the department has awarded more than $1.7 million to 256 Charles County businesses, with over $745,000 still pending approval. Brown mentioned the state recently launching an additional grant program of $1.1 million to help restaurants recoup losses suffered by the pandemic.
“Keeping our businesses in business has been our top priority,” Brown said.
Brown discussed future economic projects in the county, including an Amazon delivery station planned to be located on Industrial Park Drive in Waldorf. Brown said the project will reactivate a warehouse that has been vacant since 2010, with two additional properties totaling almost 32 acres and 290,000 square feet of industrial space. The project is slated to employ around 200 full- and part-time workers and is scheduled to be operational in early 2021.
Brown mentioned the Waldorf station mixed use development project, a proposed 145-acre project in Waldorf on Route 301 at Mattawoman-Beantown Road. The developer, Greenberg Gibbons, has ratified an agreement with the board of commissioners and is planning approximately 500,000 square feet of commercial space, retail, dining, entertainment, around 800 residential units and an assisted living facility to begin in 2021.
In additional projects, Brown mentioned continuing to work with the town of Indian Head to support redevelopment of underutilized and vacant properties along route 210. Brown said the College of Southern Maryland Velocity Center, opened in September, is the centerpiece of the effort and will be a place of innovation and learning.
“There is still work to be done,” Brown said. “The department wants to assist the community, but none of us can do this alone.”
Later in the meeting, Garner Economics presented a “2020 Pivot Plan” for the economic development department to further understand the pandemic’s impacts. Garner Economics is the author of Charles County’s five-year strategic plan, focused on facing challenges and embracing opportunities.
Jay Garner, president of Garner Economics, presented figures from around the nation of how state and local economies were managing the pandemic. In order to grow despite impacts of the pandemic, Garner suggested the addition of pharmaceutical manufacturing, medical supplies and equipment manufacturing, food processing and distribution target industries in the county.