The Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation Inc. (CHIEF) has been mentioned in a number of news stories and letters to the editor during the past few months. As president of CHIEF, I saw this as an opportunity to provide some information to the community about our organization.
CHIEF was incorporated in February 1960 by a group of business leaders in Washington County as a private, nonprofit organization. (CHIEF became our unofficial name, shorthand for County Hagerstown Industry Expansion Fund.)
At the time, business leaders were rightly concerned about the large number of people employed by only a handful of companies. To sustain the county’s long-term economic growth and create more jobs, CHIEF members thought we needed to attract a number of different types of businesses to Washington County. By doing so in a planned, orderly process, and working closely with local elected officials, it was hoped that Washington County would create a more stable, prosperous business environment and more employment opportunities for its citizens.
CHIEF’s first success was in 1960, when it optioned 400 acres of land and used it to attract Mack Trucks (now Volvo Powertrain) to Hagerstown. Since then, some of CHIEF’s larger projects have included the Interstate Industrial Park, the 70/81 Industrial Park, the Airport Business Park and Newgate Industrial Park. Some of the businesses located in the industrial parks include major employers like Certain-Teed Products Corp., Rust-Oleum, Packaging Services of Maryland, Citicorp Credit Services, Purina Mills and Cinetic Landis, to name a few.
As of May 2012, some 7,600 people were employed at companies that CHIEF had a major hand in attracting to Washington County. CHIEF has also played a major role in preservation of the Hagerstown Fairgrounds (Fairgrounds Park), the development of the North Potomac Street parking lot in downtown Hagerstown, the University System of Maryland-Hagerstown campus, and contributing to construction of the Career Programs Building at Hagerstown Community College. CHIEF was also instrumental in founding the Community Foundation of Washington County MD, Inc.
Our next major project is the development of Mount Aetna Technology Park. In 20 years or so, hopefully sooner, hundreds of Washington County residents will be employed in high-tech and bio-tech, as well as renewable energy, jobs on the Mount Aetna campus. We’ve been working with city, county, state and federal officials to begin to develop the property.
As a nonprofit organization, CHIEF is governed by 15 directors, including four officers, all of whom are volunteers. They don’t get paid. We have two paid staff, one full time and one part time. Taxpayer money is not used to pay staff or fund CHIEF’s operations.
We recognize that our county’s economic development will often be debated publicly, and that many projects have supporters and detractors. The discussion is a healthy and necessary part of the democratic process. CHIEF’s interests have been, and always will be, doing what’s in the best interest of Washington County. We believe we have had a pretty good track record during the past 50-plus years, and we wanted the citizens of Washington County to know that from the beginning, our mission has and will remain “Improving Washington County one project at a time.”
Gregory I. Snook is president and CEO of Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation Inc.