Throughout its 50 year history, Howard County Chamber has always taken great pride in providing leadership on initiatives that contribute to Howard County’s economic vitality. This year the Chamber decided to embark upon its first ever Intercity Visit, from here on out referred to as Howard L.E.A.D.S (Leadership – Excellence – Advocacy – Development – Sustainability). All who live and work in Howard County recognize that it is a special place. While the county continues to grow and prosper, there are challenges that if not acknowledged and adequately addressed, will threaten our economic vitality. From September 15 to 17, the Chamber staff and 15 community leaders led by County Executive Dr. Calvin Ball visited with representatives from Somerset County, NJ. In choosing Somerset County, the Chamber was able to visit a community that is a New Jersey replica of Howard County. Somerset County and its townships and boroughs are known for top schools, healthy communities, thriving business, and diversity.
Over the three day period, Howard County attendees met with Somerset County representatives and discussed a multitude of topics covering historic preservation, downtown revitalizations, housing, environmental sustainability, flood mitigation, community health, and public-private partnerships. Although there was much to be learned and gleaned from the trip, there are 10 major take-aways which are highlighted below.
Top 10 Take-aways from Somerset County, NJ
- Unified leadership – Community success occurs when elected officials operate from the same game plan and aspire to accomplish the same goals with policy decisions reflecting this uniformity. It is a bold vision that where you articulate what you want and do not want. Leadership is accompanied by steadiness and patience recognizing that community development or redevelopment is a marathon, not a sprint and it takes time.
- Create your own game plan – What has worked in the past, may not work in the future. Moreover, if your community has unique challenges, then unique solutions must accompany it. This sometimes means creating your own set of solutions that are specific to you.
- Invest in Infrastructure – Public transportation poses challenges for most suburban communities. Future economic growth and workforce development depends upon a communities ability to solve mobility challenges especially for those that are economically challenged.
- Develop sound land use policies – Every community strives to have vibrant neighborhoods with pristine streets. To get there, one must have the zoning that provides direction yet is not overly restrictive so as to meet market demands.
- Housing is an economic development issue – the affordability of housing is threatening communities ability to compete for talent. The same way that companies have an array of professional positions for various skill types, communities must have an assortment of housing options that support the many different salary and wage levels.
- Redevelopment is about achieving the community’s goals, having strong project management, and creating great places.
- Main Streets and Downtowns thrive on experience – E-commerce will continue to grow, yet people thrive on interpersonal interaction that is heightened with experiences are created. We have to create an experience otherwise why will people come?
- Cooperation is key – Somerset County has a host of townships and boroughs. While Howard County does not have the incorporated areas, we do have a ton of organizations that often do related activities. Consequently, we must continue working cooperatively.
- Value open spaces – Greenspace is a community asset. Economic development is must be constant for any community looking not to remain stagnant. Simultaneously, we must balance this development by budgeting for and acquiring open spaces as the opportunities present themselves.
- Healthy communities link public policy and economic development – Communities prosper as much for how they encourage public health as they do new commercial development. Business, government, institutions, and non-profits must work collaboratively to ensure that residents and employees alike have access to recreation opportunities, nutritional food choices, and mental health resources.