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Lower Shore development agency gets new HQ, seeks to boost small business

SALISBURY — Maryland’s secretary for business and economic development rallied Lower Shore leaders behind a state venture capital initiative that seeks to invest millions of dollars into companies and entrepreneurs with innovative ideas.

The state is poised to award a total of $84 million raised through an online tax credit auction earlier this year, but Lower Shore companies that don’t apply cannot benefit from the infusion known as InvestMaryland, Christian S. Johansson, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, told leaders gathered in Salisbury on Monday to unveil the new facility of the Tri-County Council for the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland.

“How do we identify companies to benefit for this program?” Johansson asked after the luncheon. “How do we build a pipeline on the Eastern Shore?”

Johansson had joined 200 or more Lower Shore, state and federal political, business and civic leaders at the ribbon-cutting ceremony that formally welcomed the Tri-County Council to its new headquarters. The $10 million multipurpose center off westbound Route 50 in Salisbury consolidates services of the council, and currently includes services such as the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s One-Stop Job Market; Shore Transit public commuter service; and the Lower Shore Workforce Alliance.

Craig Mathies, president of the Tri-County Council, recalled earlier years in the process to form the agency responsible for facilitating regional planning and development for Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties — giving the rural Lower Shore a stronger voice in Annapolis.

“(Leaders) would work toward forming a centralized council, and in eight short years later, here we are,” Mathies said of the council that formed by an act of the Maryland General Assembly in 2001.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., called the Tri-County Council’s move into a new, 76,000-square-foot space on 26 acres, “a big deal.”

“This is big news for the Lower Shore,” said Cardin, who was a featured speaker at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Securing grant funding for the new council campus was “not easy to get in a tough economic climate,” he also said.

Citing ongoing achievements, Cardin noted the Tri-County Council’s designation as an Economic Development District by the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, saying the designation better positions the agency competitively. He also applauded the spirit of cooperation among municipal and county elected officials or paid administrators in the three counties who serve on the Council.

“Getting three counties to work together is tremendous,” Cardin said. “This is big.”

Johansson sees the Tri-County Council’s role as pivotal in identifying businesses to receive InvestMaryland capital expected to be available starting July 1.

“The Tri-County Council is a strategic partner in economic development, and it’ll be one group with a critical role in identifying businesses,” Johansson said, adding that a business incubation support arm is at the new council headquarters. “You never know where a new innovation will come from.”