Rick Weldon Profile (copy)

Rick Weldon, president and CEO of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, chats with Frederick County Del.Ken Kerr in a hallway of the House Office building.

Despite nationwide concerns of a coming recession in 2020, local economic development experts think Frederick County is equipped for continued growth and economic development.

Experts all year predicted a recession would come either in 2019 or 2020, though many of those prognosticators have since scaled those predictions back.

Frederick’s diverse economy makes the county more resilient to economic fluctuations, said Helen Propheter, director of the county’s economic development office.

And while the county is preparing for a potential economic downturn, she said they expect 2020 to be an even stronger year than 2019.

In order to best position the county for a potential downturn, the economic development office recommends buying local to support businesses, employees and their families and building a strong relationship with the bank because that relationship will be crucial in tough times. They also encourage business leaders to promote lifelong learning, saying businesses with strong leadership that understand the economic environment and the workforce are able to pivot to handle large changes in the economy.

Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Weldon also expressed little concern about a possible economic downturn, adding that many challenges facing businesses are brought on by partisan politics.

“I just wish that national politicians of both parties would just shut up and get out of the way of business,” Weldon said. “That would be a great start.”

The economy is just as likely to expand in 2020 as it is to retract, Weldon said. The county is likely to see a record number of startups in the coming year, in large part because of FITCI, the tech business incubator that Weldon called the best anywhere.

Much like their concerns about a potential recession, Weldon and Propheter share a similar outlook that the county’s single most important issue in 2020 will be to develop a qualified and capable workforce.

The county celebrated major wins in recent years such as Kite Pharma, Navistar Direct Marketing and Daly Marketing choosing Frederick, Propheter said. But it needs a pipeline of employees to send to those companies.

“Our focus has to be on educating tomorrow’s workforce to be ready to take the jobs that will be created here in the county,” Weldon said. “STEM education will be the key.”

While STEM education is key, so is a commitment to trades. Weldon praised partnerships between Frederick County Public Schools, Hood College, Mount St. Mary’s University and Frederick Community College in providing workforce educational programs and apprenticeships.

“There are incredibly rewarding jobs in the skilled trades that don’t require a college degree, just a hardworking apprentice with a solid skill set,” Weldon said.

With a county that is propelled predominantly by small businesses, increases to the minimum wage will also present a challenge to local businesses. The minimum wage jumps to $11 an hour in 2020 as part of a phased-in process to get to $15 an hour.

For Propheter, the response has been a mixed bag. The challenge isn’t just increasing wages for minimum wage employees, but increasing wages for other employees accordingly.

“For some businesses this isn’t an issue and for others it is a big issue as it’s adjusting their salary scale to make room for the minimum wage increase and increase other employees at the same time,” Propheter said. “For those businesses, they have communicated with us that they will be forced to hire less staff to both meet this law and their bottom line.”

But as 2020 nears, there are still plenty of growth opportunities in Frederick County’s business community despite some of the challenges. While Frederick will remain strong in its biotech and IT presence, Propheter and Weldon see several emerging industries making their way to Frederick. The addition of the e-commerce center for Goodwill is likely just the beginning of a foray into e-commerce in the county, Propheter said. And while the craft beverage industry has seen immense growth, she expects to see more businesses in that field pop up in 2020 too.

The recreation destination and experiential business boom is also likely expected to continue, Weldon said. After adding Stumpy’s Hatchet House, Tree Trekkers and a virtual reality gaming shop in 2019, more entertainment hubs, including District 40 at the old Frederick Towne Mall site are in the pipeline.

“I still think we’ll see growth and expansion in the craft beverage industry, more restaurants and food service experiences, exciting new agri-tourism and steady growth in health care and allied health, but biotech and IT will continue to be our bedrock,” Weldon said.

Follow Allen Etzler on Twitter: @AllenWEtzler.

Allen Etzler is a city editor at the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at aetzler@newspost.com.

(10) comments

sue1955

three, I'm not against small businesses per se. The owners are the salt of the earth and very hard working. I respect them very much. My family had some small business owners that did that for many, many years. But it is a hard life. An uncle told me years ago that it wasn't hard to find work, but to get paid was another story. Said uncle died in October at 88 years old. He worked until about six months before he died. He was an energetic, very smart man, and a Korean War veteran.

But, yes, I do recommend the Federal Government. As a Federal retiree, I thank God that I stuck with it. I have a comfortable retirement. Many people in my family (all now deceased) got into the Government in the 1940s and 1950s. They had good retirements. People I know, past and present, now cannot retire. They make/made too little during their working years and they regret it now. They had/are having a bad time now. For example, a late BIL and his brothers (all deceased now) worked at blue collar jobs in their adult years. They all died virtually penniless, had to get by from other family who had money, and could not even have a decent funeral.

Other colleagues I knew, when I retired in 2010, had left Federal employment at a point in their working years where they decided to go into private industry for a higher salary. As they expressed to me, they gave up a retirement system. They ended coming back to the Government, but they were essentially starting over. The Reagan Administration had changed the retirement system in the '80s. They all sure wished they could retire when I did.

Frayou

Elitist attitudes. Frederick County has been and remains a bedroom community. Keep on building those congested single family & townhouses communities. It is frustrating to see compressed single family homes built on the former Smith Farm 20-30 feet apart, little yard space. My fear is current developer, will eventually attempt to petition the county to re-zone for Town Homes. Look out Jefferson Community.

DickD

There is a well company that advertises meat, as a gift for Christmas. With it they give a extra special, at Christmas. I went on line to get it the same as I got the newspaper add. When I applied for the special, I was told it had expired. I went to Hemp's meat market, in Jefferson and got a gift certificate.

Better than the add because you can take a little at a time, see what you are ordering and it doesn't fill up your freezer.

sue1955

These men can dress things up as they want to. But, people need careers, not just jobs. Moreover, people need to make a very good salary both in their working years and also must have a high level of retirement income when they do stop working. You have to just to keep up with the cost of rent or a mortgage. How many people are actually going to retire from the types of businesses mentioned in the article?

The average person is not going to leave a career "down the road" for a likely lower salary just to give up the horrible commute. And, nobody is going to give up a lucrative retirement to take a job in Frederick County. Maybe if you have a spouse who is making decent money, you will (and do) get by. But, if you are single, you are going to stick with what you have.

Some of the worst practices that are applicable in this country are citizens not getting pensions (to a very large extent). Another is raising the retirement age. This is already being felt in the nation. It will only get worse in the years to come. With employees in private industry getting let go right before retirement and other workplace practices, this is and will continue be the unfortunate case for people.

francesca_easa

Amen Sue.

DickD

Very few companies offer a pension today. If you don't save in a IRA it's going to be difficult to ever retire.

sue1955

That was one of my points, Dick, that many/most companies don't have pensions any longer. You're correct that people not having a pension will have to have some sort of savings. However, an IRA is likely not going to serve people over the long term as a satisfactory pension. I'm not an investor and really can't intelligently discuss IRAs, but it is my understanding that they are not especially great - especially in situations where people outlive their funds.

Frayou

Regarding the 401 programs. When they first came out, I was skeptical as I only started with a small amount. But over the years I was fortunate enough to contribute more each year with the practice of 1% each time I would get a performance increase. Later years, closer to retirement I would contribute more. There will be up and down performance periods, tied to the stock market performances. Last year fourth quarter was an example, (Trump factor), but it came back this year. Overall, personally it was a good plan. Recommend looking into, especially if employers offer and contribute a match policy. Just recommend you insure it is independent and separate from employers business. Fidelity, Vanguard, T Rowe Price, examples.

Frayou

Independent controlled Employer match 401 plans are a good choice if available.

threecents

Sue, You sound like you are anti-small business, and you want cushy government jobs for everyone.

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