Harford County Executive Barry Glassman announced a shakeup in his administration’s economic development efforts Thursday.
Glassman issued an executive order consolidating the two county departments that oversee housing and economic development to create the Harford County Office of Community and Economic Development, according to a news release.
“Business development and strong communities work hand in hand in our economy,” Glassman said in a statement. “The combined Office of Community and Economic Development will facilitate this work and promote investment in Harford County to enhance opportunities and quality of life for all.”
“The new office will improve efficiencies and strengthen opportunities for business development and community stability with a focus on jobs, transportation and housing,” the news release states.
Leonard Parrish was named acting head of the new department, effective immediately. He had been in charge of the Department of Housing and Community Development, which is being merged with the Office of Economic Development. Karen Holt, who headed the latter, was moved to another position within the department, according to the release.
The change comes after Harford came out on the losing end of two big economic development deals in the past 18 months that went to neighboring Cecil County: a regional distribution center for Lidl, a German supermarket chain, and an Amazon fulfillment center, which are both under development in the Perryville area.
The Glassman administration’s economic development team also had come under criticism in some segments of the local business community regarding efforts to retain and aid existing businesses, according to several people familiar with the situation.
Medline, an Illinois-based medical supplies manufacturer and distributor, is an example. The company plans to build a 1.1 million-square-foot distribution center in Perryville, where it will relocate operations from its current center in Harford County, the Maryland Department of Commerce announced in December. Although it has a Havre de Grace mailing address, the company's facility is inside the Aberdeen city limits.
Medline’s move to the Principio Business Park facility, expected to be LEED-certified, will nearly triple the company’s workforce, adding more than 200 jobs in the next six years, officials said.
“We are always looking for efficiencies and opportunities for synergy and because the work of these two departments is closely connected, it made sense to merge them,” administration spokesperson Cindy Mumby said when asked if the change was being driven by dissatisfaction with the economic development effort.
“These two areas have an impact on quality of life and stable communities and business development and they work closely together,” Mumby said.
In a telephone interview Thursday afternoon, Glassman said the “reorganization” has been under consideration for about six months and did not arise out of dissatisfaction with how the county was managing its economic development efforts, but rather out of improving future results. He said in terms of commercial development metrics, such as square footage added and jobs, Harford is on par with other suburban counties like Howard and Baltimore and ahead of Anne Arundel County.
“The one thing I have stressed to all our staff is don’t just settle for the old ways, but to think how do you do business to get better,” he said. “How can we operate better going forward.”
Glassman said Holt’s expertise has been working with the command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, other federal agencies and the post contractor community. He said he expects there to be a number of opportunities to take advantage of technology transfer and additive manufacturing arising from the research and development at APG.
“There is going to be a lot of opportunity for new company growth, job growth from this area,” he said. “It makes sense for Karen to concentrate there, that’s really in her wheelhouse.”
He said he was impressed with Parrish’s “great progress” in managing the housing department and his success at securing state and federal grants, in addition to his private sector experience in real estate and having run a business.
“Putting all these factors together, I think it was time to do it” and make the changes, he added.
Parrish joined the Glassman administration in early 2015 and has more than 15 years of professional experience in real estate, land acquisitions and property management throughout the mid-Atlantic region, according to the news release.
As a teenager, Parrish learned various aspects of his father’s civil engineering business and previously operated an independent consulting company specializing in construction management and site location services, according to the release.
Parrish is a licensed Maryland real estate broker and has extensive public sector experience managing grants related to workforce development, housing and community development, according to the release. He earned a bachelor of science in pre-law from Towson University and a master of science in land development from Johns Hopkins University.
“With his experience owning and managing his own business, he has a firm foundation on what it takes to attract and retain businesses in Harford County, and he will be looking to that in this role,” Mumby said of Parrish. “He has experience in the public and private sector and is highly regarded in the business community.”
Parrish, who is married to the daughter of former Harford County Executive Jim Harkins, will be paid $122,200 in his new position, which is considered cabinet level, according to Mumby. He had been making $117,320.
The cabinet position of director of economic development will be eliminated. Holt, who had been economic development director since early 2015, will become the county’s federal installation administrator within the new department, according to the release.
Prior to her role in the Glassman administration, Holt was the regional manager for Harford County’s Chesapeake Science & Security Corridor, a Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment growth initiative for Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC.
In her new position, “Holt will reinforce the county’s relationship with Aberdeen Proving Ground and related contractors, identify tech transfer opportunities and manage the county’s response to federal actions including future rounds of BRAC,” according to the news release.
Holt’s salary of $122,200 annually will not change, according to Mumby.
The reorganization will also eliminate one vacant, unfunded deputy director position in the former Department of Housing and Community Development, and one administrative support position, according to the release. All other roles will use existing staff.
Office locations for the existing departments will be maintained with expanded services to reflect their combined functions. Economic development services will now be available in Bel Air, along with housing and community development, at 15 S. Main St. Conversely, housing and community development services will join economic development on the Route 40 corridor at 2021D Pulaski Highway in Havre de Grace.
Glassman’s administration consolidated all economic development functions at the Havre de Grace location shortly after taking office in 2015, which had the effect of moving the economic development director out of Bel Air and away from proximity to the main administration activities, where it had been for decades.
Mumby said Parrish “will report to” offices in both Bel Air, where he has been working, and at the Havre de Grace location.
In accordance with the county charter, Parrish will serve in an acting capacity until his appointment is confirmed by the Harford County Council. The council also will have 60 days from its submission to act on the executive order consolidating the two departments, after which the order would automatically take effect.