By BRIEN POFFENBERGER
A letter to the Editor in the January 18, 2012 Herald-Mail
Ask the folks in economic development what success looks like, and they are quick to tell you: Current employers hold the key to job creation. Help existing businesses succeed, they say, and we win twice over. First, the expansion of current employers means more jobs here in Washington County. Second, the success of existing businesses creates opportunities. Customers, suppliers and like-minded companies begin to see Washington County as a place where they can do business. Success breeds success.
None of this is simple, of course, but it helps when the local business community is as strong as ours. At the Economic Development Commission and the Chamber, we are reminded just how strong each year when we start planning the Washington County Business Awards (WCBA) program. This joint program, now in its 13th year, celebrates success in business and what that means to our community.
Hagerstown is still very much a relationship-based town, and we measure the success of companies not only by the dry arithmetic of profit and loss, but also in terms of creativity, service and contribution to the community. By these measures, there has not been a recession in Washington County for some time. Still, the past few years have been tough, and it can be helpful to look back at whom we have recognized over the years.
A quick survey of past WCBA winners shows a business community stronger, more diverse and more committed to our community than our economic statistics might suggest. The roster includes companies that make things — long Washington County’s great strength — but it also includes finance companies, idea companies and companies that move things around. Problem solvers, technology wizards, designers, planners, farmers, teachers, builders, great service and great food, high art and pop culture — they are all on the list.
Washington County’s traditional strength in manufacturing can be seen in everything from furniture (Beachley Furniture) and building materials (Holcim Cement, Jamison Door, Cavetown Planing Mill) to pet supplies (Cosmic Pet) and the little bear full of honey on your breakfast table (Parker Plastics). At the same time, some of our strongest companies (Sierra Nevada, Volvo, HBP) have been recognized for bringing new technologies to traditional manufacturing.
We have rewarded businesses for an entrepreneurial spirit (Glessner Alarm, Hagerstown Magazine, BJ’s Custom Creations), whether they bring a new spirit to an old idea or a new idea all together. Hub Labels and Fil-tec are just two of the companies that send Washington County products abroad, and Fed-Ex and Bowman are just two that bring the world to Washington County. Hagerstown Community College and Kaplan educate us, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Maryland Symphony inspire us, and Yogi Bear Campground gives us a getaway that is really not so far away at all. For top service in the county, we can start the day with breakfast in Hancock at Weavers Restaurant and end it with a Hagerstown Suns game in Municipal Stadium.
This partial list of past WCBA winners merely hints at the strength of the businesses, the ideas, the innovation and the people hard at work here in Washington County. The Chamber and the EDC see that strength every day, and you can see it on parade at the Washington County Business Awards on Feb. 29.
For more information, visit www.hagerstown.org.
Brien Poffenberger is president of the Hagerstown/Washington County Chamber of Commerce.