The Towson Chamber of Commerce and Baltimore County officials on Wednesday greeted business and community leaders from Zimbabwe in an effort to promote relationships between two entities that face the same issues — even if they are half a world apart..
"Any time somebody comes to you looking to pull some sort of value from what you're currently doing as an organization, you want to offer whatever you can," said James Jones, president of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, after a pair of informational sessions.
"That's what we do here in Towson as the chamber," he said. "We work to provide value to the community at the level that we work, and we're doing the same thing by doing this. We're working to provide value to a business community in another country."
The meeting was attended by eight Zimbabwean mayors, deputy mayors, town clerks and business leaders as part of their 10-day, four-city tour of the United States.
During the session, Jones and Nancy Hafford, executive director of the chamber, shared the Towson chamber's business and promotional methods and ideology.
Jones said the group discussed, "what the Towson chamber does differently than any other chamber, or at least what we do individually that we find to be successful."
"Nancy mentioned the fact that they clearly are existing in much more challenging economic times than we are," he said.
After learning about each other's situations and discussing what each side hoped to get out of the meeting, Jones and Hafford gave a few helpful tidbits to the delegation, who came to Towson fromWashington, D.C.Additional stops in St. Louis and Chicago remain.
"The first one (that interested them) was clearly the suggestion of tax incentives for private investors to come in and bring businesses to their community," Jones said.
Hafford used the Towson City Center, which for years sat vacant and unusable, as an example of private-public partnerships revitalizing areas.
Nimrod Chiminya, president of the Zimbabwe Local Government Association, said that concept got the delegation's attention, though the tax system in Zimbabwe is different.
"There would have to be a lot of modifications, but we certainly think we could come up with incentives that could attract potential investors from all over the world, and even internal investors, to come to some of our cities and the different local authorities," Chiminya said.
Jones and Hafford also explained the chamber's desire to incorporate the desires of the community into the business core, and networking events that put all businesses on the same page in terms of strategy.
Earlier in the day, Dan Gundersen, director of economic development for Baltimore County, rounded up his senior staff and combined forces with the county Department of Planning to give a presentation on the county's capital improvement program.
Gundersen said they went through every step of the process, from citizen input and governmental review to council action, using the county's ongoing projects as examples.
"Baltimore County is so well-administered, and the processes are down pat," Gundersen said. "It's a good test bed and example for others."