A Broader Vision of Business-Friendly

The Frederick County commissioners have made being “business-friendly” a top priority. Their list of Frederick County’ Business Friendly Improvement Areas consists of 263 action items, from expanding walk-thru permitting to Water and Sewer plan amendments. Looking at the list, one might think they left out a word.   It’s no surprise that these commissioners seem to think “business-friendly” really means “development-business friendly” and a review of their list certainly shows to what a remarkable degree they have attempted to respond to the desires of the land-development community.

As a business owner in Frederick county, I’m not opposed to streamlining processes, reducing red tape, or simplifying regulations—for developers or anyone else.  Nor am I against cutting wasteful spending, lowering taxes or combining duplicative services.  In any enterprise I have ever been familiar with there is always room for improvement and left to its own devices government tends to grow without being forced to find efficiencies or risk being placed at a competitive disadvantage.

No, I’m all for being business-friendly.  Attracting more businesses and helping the ones already here to grow and increase profitability is critical to our future.  Obviously, a growing business sector is essential to economic vitality.  But more than that, growing businesses provide a rising tide for the whole community by providing more opportunities for jobs, paychecks that can support a family, pay the rent or mortgage, a meal out or an evening at the movies.  Moreover, attracting businesses by espousing policies that encourage companies to relocate or expand here creates a virtuous circle that feeds on itself and can pay benefits for decades.

But the kinds of businesses a bedroom community attracts are not the same as a commercial center.  Forty percent of our working population leaves the county when they go to work.  If we want to attract companies that can employ a greater proportion of our citizens we need to do more than just promote policies that make it easier to build more houses and apartments and the businesses that support them.

Real estate and land development are important industries all across the country but because of our history and location they have had an outsize importance in Frederick County.  Like other counties on the periphery of Washington, growth largely means rising population and the attendant need for more housing and the services that come with it.  Real estate and land development will be central to our growth over the coming decades and the challenge is to ensure that our future development supports and enhances the larger community of which it is a part rather than drive it.  But having an honest conversation about what that really means has not been a part of the commissioners’—or their supporters’—agenda.

There are two prongs to this challenge: one is to encourage businesses that can serve as a catalyst for other business to locate and grow here.  For example, high-tech companies tend to cluster together and feed off one another as we’ve seen in biotechnology and renewable energy.  The other is to ensure that the residential growth we do have does not create a burden borne by the existing tax base to pay for the expanded services, schools and roads required by the new development and in doing so sap our ability to invest for the future.

Attracting and retaining businesses isn’t just a matter of tax rates and business policies either.  People who make the decision to locate and grow their companies are looking for a community where they and their employees’ families can thrive.  That means a community that values and invests in good schools and public safety, provides support and social services for the less fortunate who need a helping hand and creates opportunity for social interaction and harmony without sacrificing the benefits of diversity.

Being business-friendly is a great idea.  But it means a lot more than what the current commissioners seem to have had in mind.