No department needed for economic development manager [Editorial]

It's time for a bit of a reality check in Havre de Grace with regard to the resources the city government needs to be allocating to tourism, marketing and economic development.

All are important aspects of ensuring the city has a vibrant economy, but it remains to be seen if the city really needs to go from having a single economic development manager to having a department of economic development.

At present, the city has both a tourism and marketing manager and an economic development manager, and it makes sense for these to jobs to be coordinated. Still, these functions historically have fallen under the management of city's planning office, which long served the tripartite functions of dealing with land use matters, working with the various committees and commissions that manage many of the city's tourist attractions and attracting new businesses.

Certainly there is a break point when the functions of a particular branch of government grow to a certain size that it makes sense to separate them. It worked in 1947 when the Army Air Force became the Air Force, its own branch of the U.S. armed services. It is worth noting that Harford County Government has its own economic development and tourism agencies that are a good deal larger and more firmly established than those in Havre de Grace. Then again, Harford County is more than 15 times the size of Havre de Grace in terms of population.

Turning the single economic development manager position into a department unto itself is likely only to give city cabinet level status to the function. This, of course, can be done without taking any action by any mayor who elevates economic development to a status of importance; by the same token, a mayor who, for some reason, attaches a low priority to economic development could relegate a department head assigned to that function to a low status position.

Realistically speaking, turning the position of manager into department head implies that there will be a department, and with a department will most likely follow the attendant bureaucracy. It would be natural to assign the tourism functions to a department of economic development. Then again, if the functions are the responsibility of just a few people, is it really necessary to establish a small department?

Havre de Grace has a lot going for it in terms of its economic development potential given its proximity to rail lines and I-95. From a tourism perspective, it has plenty of amenities and attractions, though it is sometimes forgotten that the most substantial tourism component in the city's economy is the boating community associated with the city's waterfront. Millions of dollars worth of pleasure craft are docked in Havre de Grace, and this has been the case since long before there was an economic development manager or a tourism manager.

Modern business has obliged towns, counties and cities to compete for the advantage of being home to a particular business venture – a development that unfortunately sometimes works against the host communities – so having an economic development person on staff has become something of a necessity to ensure the city is both in the running for new opportunities and isn't taken in by offers that turn out to be detrimental in the long run.

For a city the size of Havre de Grace to start moving in the direction of turning that job into a full-blown department, however, is probably premature at this point.

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