OPINION: The Importance of Community Partnerships

By Bob Schaller, Director of Economic Development, St. Mary's County

If there's one thing I've learned about economic and community development that sustains growth and development it is the value of partnerships. These partnerships come in all forms and arrangements. Most visible are the formal arrangements encoded in Memorandums of Understanding or Agreement. We hold dozens of MOUs or MOAs with organizations to carry out important work that wouldn't be possible or advisable on an individual basis. A recent reminder is the joint encroachment mitigation and prevention meeting just held between the Board of County Commissioners and the Commanding Officer of NAS Patuxent River. Controlling development (encroachment) around the base is essential to the Navy's mission and thus our economic well-being. To keep the base and the County working together we have an MOU in place. What keeps the MOU working is a requirement to meet twice yearly and review items of mutual interest and concern. We've now held three joint encroachment meetings. During one of these, the County reported passing zoning text amendments to restrict residential development within the Air Installation Compatible Use Zone (AICUZ), the flight path that extends beyond the runways where accident potential exists. Also during these meetings the Navy furnishes the County with up-to-date data on aviation programs that ultimately affect life immediately around and well beyond the base. The Navy has also made adjustments to their work plans and schedules to better accommodate community needs in business, workforce, education, housing, and other areas. It's a great relationship and a model that other military communities around the country are following.

There are other formal partnerships that reach into the business community, tourism sector, housing, agriculture, Lexington Park, the town of Leonardtown, etc. There are also countless examples of informal partnerships and relationships that address current challenges and future opportunities. Just one example is workforce development where a wide range of partnerships exist or are being developed. One interesting initiative involves young professionals who are forming the basis of the new workforce, one that's best described in Richard Florida's "Creative Class." According to Florida, a younger, more highly-educated worker tends to gravitate to stimulating creative environments that offer cultural and recreation opportunities and other amenities that fit their lifestyles. More importantly, these locations must have the basic ingredients for creativity such as diversity, openness, and a climate that fosters innovation. Ultimately these locations will be defined by this very group. But they must feel part of the community to make the necessary financial and emotional investment.

Continued growth at the base where more than 22,000 now work means the addition of hundreds of new employees each year for the coming years. Half will be direct Navy hires, the other half will be contractors. Most will be recent college graduates. We know how challenging it is to recruit to a peninsula in Southern Maryland. We also know that the challenge is even tougher to retain young workers once they're here. To assist in this area, a new initiative has emerged from the combined efforts of the Southern Maryland Young Professionals Event Social (SMYPES) and St. Mary's County Chamber of Commerce to address their unique needs. If anyone is interested in getting more involved please contact our office.

Extending this workforce partnership, the Navy, local industry, Patuxent Partnership, local school system, higher education institutions, the Jobs Connections Program, a newly re-formed Southern Maryland Workforce Investment Area, and others are all working together at different levels toward the same end: a "grow your own" approach to local workforce development. There is a real focus on local workforce creation as well as efforts aimed at workforce revitalization, the retraining and retooling of the existing workforce.

Combining recruitment and retention of new recruits along with creating and revitalizing opportunities for the local workforce involves several organizations and takes strong partnerships. Like encroachment mitigation and retention, workforce development takes many to bring about.

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