Office of Economic Development Helps Businesses Thrive Through Capital Investments, Workforce Training
Businesses relocating or expanding in Maryland, particularly Harford County, are reaping the benefits from State and local economic development programs designed to enhance the area’s skilled workforce and assist in capital expenditures associated with expansion or relocation. The Harford County Office of Economic Development (OED) and the State Department of Commerce (formerly MD Department of Business and Economic Development or DBED) are working hand-in-hand on programs that assist with significant capital investment projects, job creation and retention. State programs include long-term loans that convert to grants if certain conditions are met, while the County offers a matching workforce training grant that supports skilled technology and job-specific upgrades.
“OED has a variety of economic tools to both retain and attract businesses to Harford County,” says Karen Holt, director of economic development for Harford County. “We also have an experienced team of professionals to help forge partnerships at the state level and make a strong match on available resources.”
Tucker McNulty, senior business development associate at the OED, says, “We want to grow and expand manufacturing and distribution along with all the other business sectors in Harford County. The ability to assist companies with training initiatives is also creating a world-class workforce locally, fueling Harford County’s economy.”
McNulty has worked with several large distribution companies that have either recently moved to or expanded existing operations in Harford County. He explains that the process of qualifying for funding is a partnership with the State Department of Commerce. “A Department of Commerce representative will visit and meet with the company to get a better understanding of the project and to ascertain the economic value to Maryland. Capital investment and job creation is critical, but other components, such as utilization of the Port of Baltimore, are also important,” he says. “Qualifying companies can typically receive a long-term, 10-year conditional loan from the state. OED will consider contributing 10 percent, which is required by statute, in the form of a Work Force Technical Training Grant (WFTTG).” McNulty is responsible for creating the legislation of both the State and County contribution and presenting the merits of the project to the County Council, which has the ultimate vote.
For example, Gordon Food Service, the largest privately owned broad line food distributor in North America, was asked by its customers to invest in a mid-Atlantic location. “It was imperative that we move quickly, so we decided to find a property rather than build a new one,” says Ted Wasielewski, director of human resources for Gordon Food Service’s Mid-Atlantic Division. With the help of the Office of Economic Development, the company found an old Super Value grocery distribution center. “It was ideal, because it already had an ammonia cooling system and refrigeration built in, so we didn’t have to build a new facility,” Wasielewski explains. The center, located at 504 Advantage Way in Aberdeen, is 240,000 square feet, and growing.
Wasielewski says he was the process facilitator between the County and the state. The result: Gordon Food Service received a $210,000 conditional loan, and $50,000 in a Work Force Technical Training Grant to be disbursed at the rate of $10,000 over the next five years. In return, Gordon Food Service has committed to 60-70 additional jobs at its facility in 2016, bringing an estimated 250-300 new jobs to the region. Wasielewski says the training grant money will be used for computer training, computer automation, ammonia cooling techniques and other technical skills training that can result in increased pay for employees. In addition, Gordon Food Service has worked with Harford Community College on a writing skills program for its employees.
“I am very impressed with all of the work the OED does,” Wasielewski says. “They are a local-feeling group – they come out and learn about your business and they really want to see you succeed.”
At Sephora USA, the company’s relocation and expansion project to Harford County carries an estimated capital expenditure of $25 million. Sephora received a $1 million conditional loan from the state and a $100,000 Work Force Technical Training Grant. The company employs approximately 400 people in its 650-square-foot leased facility in Belcamp, and it will add 110 new jobs over the next five years.
Through the WFTTG, business computer training on basic computing and Microsoft Excel has been provided to over 60 people to date. About 40 people have taken the motorized handling equipment training that enables them to run a forklift – a higher-paying, skilled job, according to Human Resources Vice President Tom Gustafson.
“I am new to the company and to Harford County, and Tucker McNulty and the OED were instrumental in letting me know what qualified for the technical training grant,” Gustafson says. “The training has to provide technical skills that will help employees better themselves both personally and from a career perspective.” Gustafson said the company partnered with the University Center at HEAT to hold a computer training for 50 people, and they will continue to collaborate with Harford Community College for continuing education classes.
McNulty said another large distribution company, Medline Industries, applied for the State loan and County WFTTG for a planned expansion of 100,000 square feet to its current 297,500-square-foot facility in Havre de Grace. Medline, the largest privately held manufacturer and distributor of healthcare supplies in the United States, will retain 77 jobs and provide 35 new full time jobs by the end of 2018 as part of its plan for a $5.6 million capital expenditure for expansion. A training grant of $60,000 will be disbursed over three years.
“These projects are a good economic stimulus for Harford County,” McNulty explains. “New and expanding companies retain and create jobs in Harford County, which in turn expands our tax base. Our partnership with the State leverages budgets to create economic activity that could very well occur in another part of the state or even outside the state. Our goal is to help businesses thrive in Harford County.” I95