We’ve stated before that economic development will not happen overnight, and it won’t happen in the absence of a plan. Last year, the County RDC sanctioned an Economic Development Plan to study the feasibility of growth in certain areas of our county. Areas like I-74 / S.R. 32 and south of S.R. 32 in the Nucor corridor. That plan verified what elected and appointed officials already knew: utility infrastructure was a challenge because it didn’t exist, but more importantly it identified what types of infrastructure, and at what capacities, would turn that around. From that, plans have now been developed in cooperation with the Regional Sewer Board to install water and sewer to those areas to support future growth. This is so critically important from a business development perspective. There has been no growth in those two areas for many years simply because there is no water and sewer. The old adage build it and they will come holds true. When companies are looking to locate to a community or specific site, they are most interested in those communities who are prepared, not those who say, “if you come, then we will build”. Speed-to-market for business is so critical today that those communities who are not ready are overlooked.
During the planning stage, we have to assess which infrastructure projects will generate the most return on investment—the "bang for the buck”—so to speak. Once that’s determined, we must then decide how best to fund these potential projects. One option is to wait until the county has enough tax dollars saved to complete each project. While some may prefer this ultra-conservative approach, it restricts the amount of projects we can complete and in turn, limits our ability to grow. Why? Because growth does not depend upon just one single infrastructure project, instead there is generally a comprehensive network of infrastructure needed to support growth. Another option is to leverage local tax dollars to secure matching grants to fund projects. This more commonly used method allows us to pay only a percentage of the total cost of a project (generally 20%) while the State or Federal government pays the remainder of the project cost (generally 80%). Securing these types of grants requires planning. In order to be considered for State and Federal funding for many infrastructure projects a community must demonstrate they are prepared. In fact, many of these grants require evidence of local investment to show that the community is prepared. In addition, having the engineering work completed, or at a minimum, the conceptual design work done is another example that demonstrates a community is prepared to move forward with the infrastructure projects should they be a recipient of a grant. This latter option is the one the County Commissioners are using to plan for current and future infrastructure needs. Leveraging limited tax dollars to secure funding for a project is a smarter way to do business and provides a quicker return on the County’s investment. In the end, if you aren’t planning, you aren’t growing.
John Frey, Montgomery County Commissioner