Since Garrett County's Economic Development Director, Alex McCoy vacated his post back in April of 2017, the department has been operating with his abandoned staff and former director, Jim Hinebaugh who now serves as Commissioner.
The Commissioners, along with a selection committee have sifted through two rounds of applicants to find a replacement for McCoy without success. Although viable, and in fact, impressive prospects have applied, none have accepted the position when made a final offer.
Evaluating the sticking points that have thwarted the hiring efforts would seem the next logical step. Is Garrett County able to hand over a competitive salary found in other rural communities and are the mountain region and economic challenges appealing to potential applicants?
There are several issues to tackle in Garrett County for the next director. Although unemployment numbers are in line with state averages, employers are struggling to find willing and able applicants to fill positions. The population has remained largely the same over the past 30 years and there are fewer students in the public schools. Subsidized households top 50% which would indicate a struggling economy, and area youth who pursue university degrees rarely return due to the lack of employment opportunities that exploit their educations.
For generations, Garrett County relied on extractive industries and manufacturing as principle economic drivers. Most economies that relied on the these foundations have suffered or crumbled under the weight of regional and global shifts. A new economy is emerging that often leans toward technology skills no matter the field. Infusing a modern workforce into a rural environment will be a vital phase of staying relevant in a rapidly changing employment world.
Target goals for a healthy economy suggest 2-3% sustainable growth. That percent may sound small but it's far from simple to accomplish. The Garrett County Chamber of Commerce, however, is enjoying two consecutive years of 6% growth in the tourism industry. This is one area in which Garrett County is excelling. The downside is that many employment opportunities in tourism are seasonal and few are long-term, professional careers.
Building a master plan for economic growth could be a wonderful opportunity for a future Economic Development Director who takes their job seriously and enjoys a challenge. The search can't simply be looking for someone with expected credentials but for a person of ambition, pride, and commitment in what they do.
Headhunters are often brought in when employers are seeking to fill a principal position. Finder's fees can be steep but firms have the reach and expertise to refine search criteria, weeding out candidates who are unsuited or passive job-seekers, not ready to accept an actual offer. They can also act as consultants to define a position's needs and advise future employers as to what would be a realistic salary for expectations of the job. Professional services can streamline the vetting process to get top talent who are a best suited, saving time, stress, and possible regret.
There is also the option of moving in-house talent up the ranks. With some investment in training or education, it's possible to elevate and groom an employee that is already familiar with the local dynamics. If they demonstrate ambition and leadership skills, the best pick may be close at hand.
The outcome of hiring a solid director to craft a grand economic design and capitalize on rural advantages could be historic. Garrett County presents untapped opportunity for anyone who has the vision to seize it. Mindful, steady growth would go relatively unnoticed by the average citizen and economic sustainability could preserve the attributes residents and visitors expect. With the right strategies, insights, and forecasts, strong leadership could construct new goals to usher in an exciting, new rural economy.