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Meet the Secretary: Business Roundtable Discusses Area Concerns

On July 24, hosted by the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic and Community Development, Christian Johansson, Secretary, Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development visited the area and participated in a roundtable discussion with area industry and government leaders. The purpose of the visit was for Johansson to see first hand the economic condition of Southern Maryland.

The roundtable, held at the J. T. Daugherty Conference Center in Lexington Park came after the Secretary had taken an expansive tour of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station and met with base officials.

According to St. Mary’s Commissioner President Jack Russell, “It is great to have Mr. Johansson see the main economic driver for our area to get a better perspective for the issues here in St. Mary’s County.”

Johansson, when address the roundtable stated that he had only visited the area on one previous occasion and that it was the “most beautiful area I have ever visited.”

SMDECD Director, Bob Schaller stated that was one of the problems with St. Mary’s County when it comes to tourism. “St. Mary’s is the only county in Maryland that people don’t have to drive through to get anywhere, so we have to entice tourists to come here. Once they do, they see how beautiful it is here.”

During the roundtable discussions which were divided into three panels: 1) Major County and Regional Strategic Organization, 2) Industry Clusters (Feds, Beds, Meds, Eds) Panel, and 3) Main Street Small Business Communities.

Each panel proceeded to have participants speak about their particular area and the successes and challenges of their particular industry or agency.

Speaking as part of panel one were: Christopher Longmore, Chairman Elect, St. Mary’s County Chamber of Commerce, Bonnie Green, Executive Director, The Patuxent Partnership and Wayne Clark, Executive Director, Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland.

Speaking in panel two were: Dawn Rich, President, Amelex, Brian Norris, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Cherry Cove, Christine Wray, President and CEO, St. Mary’s Hospital, Dr. Mel Powell, Executive Director, Southern Maryland Higher Education Center.

Participating in panel three were: Dan Norris, President, Leonardtown Business Association, John Levay, Member, South County Business Association, and Tina Garrison, President, St. Mary’s Square Merchants Association.

While each industry or agency area had differing goals and challenges, most of the roundtable participants agreed that one of the primary issues is to be better able to attract tourism and industry to the area. Success would come with businesses and governments working together to attract employers and visitors to the area. Part of that effort would be to ensure that Southern Maryland has a highly skilled and educated workforce.

For area businesses, attracting tourists is of one of the highest priorities. For local merchants in previously depressed areas, improving the public perception of the locale is also an important factor in moving forward and obtaining economic success.

After his visit and roundtable discussions, Johansson indicated that Southern Maryland had fared better than most and the State would be taking a closer look at the area for future consideration and assistance.

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