Prince George's County Strives to Create Jobs, Attract New Businesses
Some government agencies have muddled messages about their main goal. Not Prince George's County Economic Development Corp.
Simply put, they're all about jobs: Creating the right climate to generate new jobs, providing incentives to lure new businesses that bring jobs, retaining businesses, preparing individuals for the job market and traveling overseas to foster relationships for local businesses.
"It's essential that the Economic Development Corp. create jobs," said Gwen McCall, president of Prince George's County Economic Development Corp. [EDC]. "That's our focus."
David Iannucci, assistant deputy chief administrative officer, who coordinates the multiple county economic development branches, said that 60 percent of county residents work outside of the county.
"People live here but work in the city," said McCall. "We want to change that."
The county is employing various approaches to make that happen.
One is a new $50 million Economic Development Incentive Fund, which provides loans [with a 4 percent base rate] starting at $250,000 for land and building acquisition, building construction and improvement, equipment acquisition and working capital for projects whose end result grows the commercial tax base and adds more jobs in the county. It's anticipated that $7 to $11 million will be available each fiscal year for several years.
Some 58 individuals applied for the funds and, McCall said, 15 applications are working their way through the 90-day process with three in final review stage.
McCall said she expects announcements will be made soon about several applications for loans that are nearing approval.
While incentive funds like the one County Executive Rushern Baker III and the county council established have been around for some time in other jurisdictions, this is a new move for Prince George's County
"You can't do economic development without funds," said McCall, noting that the fund gives her department power to "incentivize and leverage."
"Before, this was not on the table," she said. "We were passed over. It sends the message Prince George's County is open for business."
County officials also are addressing another barrier to fostering economic development – the perception that its processes are difficult and cumbersome.
"The county has not been aggressive, creating a positive business climate," said Iannucci, describing these issues as "self inflicted. They've put up barriers to business."
He said Prince George's County has a reputation that's difficult to shake that it's a challenge to do business here. For example, he said the permit process is considered too complicated and time consuming. It's currently being revamped.
McCall agrees, saying business people have told her the county is not business friendly. Her message is that it's a new day with new people, new attitudes and new processes. "Just give us a try," she tells skeptics.
EDC is working hard to intercede in situations in which business owners encounter problems.
"We try to find out what's the bottle neck and help them move forward," she said.
At the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp.'s office in Largo, banners herald many of the organization's services such as business development, small business initiatives, workforce assistance and 21 flags give the office an international feel.
The EDC, with a staff of 65, has been working closely with several partners to ensure that businesses overseas are aware of opportunities in the county.
Last November state and county officials and business leaders – 100 individuals in all – participated in an international trade mission trip to India. Gov. Martin O'Malley and Baker led the trip.
McCall said 12 companies out of the group sign memorandums of understanding to work with partners in India. The trip culminated in $60 million in potential business opportunities coming to the state – $20 million to Prince George's County, McCall said.
Other outcomes from the India trip that EDC was involved in are: Angarai International announced an agreement with a Chennai, India company for a mobile applications project including the opening of an office in Greenbelt. Sheladia Associates will design and manage the construction of a 100-mile road in Orissa, India. Chesapeake Investment Group of Bowie announced a joint venture with Jassco of India and a $3 million investment for a natural foods project in Maryland. Potowmac Engineers of Capitol Heights announced deals for transformer equipment and security systems with a company in Mumbai, India.
EDC also facilitated a meeting for O'Malley and Baker with SilverWave to bring a JW Marriott to an undisclosed destination in Asia.
"We made those connections," said McCall. "We basically do all the legwork. Afterward we continue to work with them to grow and build their capacity."
Since that trip, EDC has hosted a delegation from India and is exploring organizing a trip to Brazil in September through the U.S. State Department to attend an international IT conference.
These overseas trade mission trips do not rely on taxpayers' dollars, McCall said. Expenses are covered by fees the department charges businesses such as handling logistics and following up on leads related to the trips.
EDC also is working with the U.S. State Department to develop business-to-business contacts for businesses with an interest in international affiliations.
Iannucci said the county is in the process of updating its economic development strategy, focusing on transit-oriented development. They also seek to grow its number of federal government contracts. Iannucci said Prince George's County is home to 25 percent of the federal workforce but only has 4 percent of federal office space.
"We want more government services located in the county," said Iannucci.
MCall said that EDC is working aggressively to serve the 15,000 businesses in the county. A new approach is its "Boots on the Ground Campaign," in which EDC staff is planning to make phone calls and personal visits to all.
"We want to be proactive," said McCall. "We want to be able to build relationships. If you have an issue, you'll know who to call."