CENTREVILLE – The commissioners unanimously passed a resolution March 10, that will strengthen and help local businesses; however, it passed with the caveat that there would be further fleshing out of the rules and regulations.
Those rules and regulations were unanimously approved March 24, when Economic Development Director, Jamie Gilbert presented the fine points of the Business Reinvestment and Infrastructure Development Grant Enterprise (BRIDGE) to the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners. At the heart of the BRIDGE Program is the belief that expansion and retention of existing industry should be the highest priority when it comes to allocating the county’s resources.
Commissioner Paul Comfort said, “I am excited the county is ready to move forward implementing our new BRIDGE Economic Development Program which will allow the county to assist existing businesses to add jobs so our residents can quit-the-bridge and live, work and play right here in Queen Anne's County.”
Gilbert said, “Directing incentives to growing Queen Anne’s County businesses that are making significant contributions to the local economy makes economic sense and it’s the right thing to do. We can’t ignore the needs of businesses that have made a financial commitment to our community and then expect new ones to want to locate here. The BRIDGE Program sends a clear message that existing companies come first.”
“Any effective economic development plan for a subdivision starts with attention to the current bench strength of employers,” said Commissioner Mark Anderson. “This innovative BRIDGE program recommended by our new Economic Director, Jamie Gilbert, provided objective criteria for those competing for the funds available each year. Our new County Commission believes QAC is ‘open for business’ to create jobs and added commercial tax base to improve our County’s quantity and quality of expected services to our citizens while maintaining an equitable tax rate for all.”
The program is funded through a portion of recordation taxes. Commissioner Paul Comfort noted that this is unique from the existing Economic Development Incentive Fund in that it allows funds to be used for infrastructure, which can be just as important as constructing a new facility.
Applicants for BRIDGE Program grant funds must be an existing business or undertaking a site redevelopment project (infill development). The project must be in one of four target sectors; advanced manufacturing, agriculture/seafood, high technology (IT, cyber security, life sciences, etc.) or tourism. The project must have a commitment to maintaining and/or creating at least 50 full time jobs, and the recipient must commit to a minimum capital investment of $250,000.
Grant funding may be used for capital equipment purchases, building improvements/new construction, infrastructure or working capital. The recipient must commit to both employment and investment numbers over a 24 month period and maintain its principal plan of business within Queen Anne’s County for a period of at least of five years. Failure to meet such commitments will result in repayment of grant funds plus interest on a pro-rated basis.
The county commissioners shall make the final determination and have final approval on the award of any and all grant funds under this program. Applicants will be screened by the Bridge Program Committee which will consist of the county’s administrator, economic development director and budget and finance director. The committee will use specific criteria to evaluate businesses that apply for BRIDGE funds. If loans are awarded, the county may establish reasonable terms and conditions as it deems appropriate.
The Committee may also review the need for regional infrastructure project funding if the infrastructure would serve in the development of a number of businesses or enhance infill for re-development. Regional infrastructure shall be targeted to advanced manufacturing, agriculture/seafood, high technology or tourism.
Applications will be taken and scored by the BRIDGE program committee based on overall economic impact, existing full-time jobs, payroll and average salary, existing employees residing in Queen Anne's County, new full-time jobs, existing and new taxable property, type of financial assistance requested, incentive value per new and existing jobs, financial commitment of the company to the project and participation from other government entities.
Once the committee has selected successful applicants for the BRIDGE Program funds, the recommendations will be forwarded to the county commissioners for funding approval. A minimum of $200,000 shall be left in the BRIDGE Program fund as a minimum reserve. This reserve can be used only with consent of the county commissioners.