Chestertown, founded in 1706, is the county seat of Kent. The Town flourished in the 18th century, serving as a major port for both exporting Maryland’s agricultural products and importing exotic wares from the West Indies and Europe. In an age when overland travel proved difficult and dangerous, Kent County served as a popular stopping point for people navigating between Philadelphia and Virginia via waterways. While Chestertown’s economy stagnated slightly following the revolution, by the 19th century, the construction of the still standing courthouse and the arrival of a railroad line signaled a new era; the population doubling by 1900.
The Town has witnessed modest growth since that time, but the architectural legacy lives on in its historic district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The brick sidewalks and abundant boutique shops draw visitors and inspire pride in residents. Kent County is looking to its future, focused on economic development for the 21st century. One effort currently underway is the Dixon Valve and Coupling Co. project. The company has based its operations in Kent County for 40 plus years, employing more than 340 people (since 1976).
Maryland Department of Planning staff spoke with Jamie Williams, Economic Development Coordinator for Kent County, about the plans for Dixon Valve and her collaboration with state agencies. The following are excerpts of Ms. William’s responses during that interview.
1. What are the major goals and objectives for economic development in Kent County?
We are focused on the basics. Create a welcoming entrepreneurial environment; Promote business retention and expansion; and Attract businesses in targeted industries. Focusing on critical sectors; i.e. digital infrastructure, educational excellence, workforce development, high quality healthcare services, housing, transportation, recreation and leisure, energy, and infrastructure.
2. Explain the Dixon Valve Project and how your department is working on it
The project began with Dixon’s need for expanded space for warehousing and distribution. The initial planning process included a new Corporate Office center for Dixon and grew to include a complete Business Campus, including apartments, a fitness center, multiple speculative commercial pad sites, a Career Training Center, community walking trails, greenspace, and more.
The groundbreaking was held on June 27, 2017. Site work began the week of July 10, 2017. The project is an $80 million, 80-acre development. Phase I includes a 160,000 sq. ft. warehouse/distribution center, three apartment buildings, and required infrastructure.
During our first meeting with the Maryland Department of Commerce, we were encouraged to investigate the possibility of establishing an Enterprise Zone to be able to offer tax credits as an incentive for Dixon remaining in Kent County and Chestertown. The County worked with the Town of Chestertown and the State and we were granted Enterprise Zone designation in July 2016.
Phase I retains over 300 jobs in Kent County. The speculative spaces could potentially create another 400 new jobs. The focus on recruiting new businesses and a workforce training center have made the project into a true economic engine for the Upper Shore.
Workforce development and retention and attraction of youth have been identified by the Upper Shore Regional Council as priorities for the region. The inclusion of a training facility within Dixon’s warehouse will provide youth in our region with access to the training for the positions that are going unfilled in our communities. Manufacturing represents 26% of annual wages earned within Kent County. These jobs are full time, they pay well, provide benefits i.e. health insurance, paid leave, paid holidays, 401k plans. These are the type of jobs that attract and retain young people in the area. They in turn raise families of their own.
4. What have been some barriers facing the project?
The biggest challenge was identifying the sources of assistance for the infrastructure; water, sewer, and roads that will be turned over to the Town upon completion. Another barrier was navigating the agencies and programs.
5. Describe the collaborative group working to advance this project.
The County, State, and Town have been working with Dixon on this project for over two years. We have begun researching other incentive programs through various organizations to assist in moving the complete project forward at an accelerated rate. Some of the organizations that may be partners include the USDA, Rural Development, Maryland Energy Administration, Maryland PACE and the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation.
6. How have state agencies, particularly the Department of Planning, supported the effort?
Planning has been a tremendous resource in identifying potential partners for funding the infrastructure necessary for this project. David Dahlstrom (Upper Eastern Shore Regional Planner) was instrumental in assisting us with the navigation process and initiating conversations. We had a meeting in Kent County with the Secretary of Planning, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development, representatives from the Governor’s Office, Commerce, etc. to discuss the options available to the Town, County, and Dixon.
7. Where do things stand now?
KRM Construction is the general contractor and they are now in the process of preparing the site. The County has secured our 1st grant for this project from the Rural Maryland Council for $200,000 for the roads that will be turned over to the Town upon completion. The Maryland Department of Commerce recently approved a $1 Million conditional loan through the Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority and Fund (MEDAAF) program. The Kent County Commissioners are providing the $100,000 match required for that program. On top of that, the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development recently awarded the Town a $500,000 Strategic Demolition Fund grant for the development of needed roads and water and sewer infrastructure for the project. With the demonstrated support of Maryland, and the diligent effort of our local officials and staff, the Dixon Valve Project is on track to provide tremendous benefits to our community for years to come. We are very excited!
8. How can Planning and the state continue to assist this effort?
We can always use help identifying funding streams that fit this project as it progresses.