Havre de Grace creates economic development director and department

Havre de Grace will be looking for a new economic development director, after the city council voted to create the position, as well as a new economic development department, on Monday.

At its meeting earlier this month, the council delayed a vote on the resolution to look at it further.

Councilman Fred Cullum introduced an amendment Monday to bring the office of tourism under the new director position and council members argued about whether the charter resolution should mention tourism.

"I don't think the city is necessarily in a position that we can afford to hire someone at a director's level to do one, single simple thing," Cullum said.

Councilman Joe Smith agreed with him, calling it "logical." He also said he researched the idea of having a whole department for both economic development and tourism and found many cities around the country have one.

Councilman Dave Glenn, however, said he wants the director to focus primarily on economic development.

"I don't want any distractions," Glenn said. "I'm just not convinced it's a good fit in the near term."

Billee Smith, a business owner, said she supports the legislation.

"We are living in some very disparaging times economically," she said, adding merchants can no longer afford to believe that if they build it, people will come.

She said as a business owner and taxpayer she strongly supports an economic development director who can hit the ground running and has a proven track record.

"We don't have the luxury to wait for it anymore," she said.

Councilman Bill Martin said the city needs something "structural" to get its economy going.

"We are in extraordinary circumstances at the moment and we need to think outside the box," he said. "The most important thing we can do in this town is economics. Without it, there's nothing else."

Smith added that as the only business owner on the dais, he is especially sensitive to business needs and he does not think Havre de Grace has decided what the city wants to be when it "grows up."

He said the city has to decide what its major economic engine will be.

The motion to combine the tourism and economic development roles failed by a 3-to-3 vote, but another amendment to make the director a liaison to the tourism department passed 5 to 1.

About the combination, Martin said tourism and economic development do not always have to go together.

"Guess what, peanut butter goes with jelly, and sometimes I just want to have a peanut butter sandwich," he said.

Council President Randy Craig said at least the resolution is a step in the right direction.

"If this charter amendment does not pass, what we are sure of is we will have what we have now," he said before the vote.

Martin also pointed out the role is "just a contract" and can be ended if it turns out to be a bad idea.

Resident Joe Fiocchi replied to Smith's comment about an economic engine, saying too many other jurisdictions have plans to bring in industry.

"The future of the growth in Havre de Grace is in tourism and tourism only. It's the only thing we really have that we can offer anyone," Fiocchi said. "Look at First Friday. That's all I have to say."

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