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From the Desk of:
Commissioner Candidate Harry Stokes

(5/1) In February I announced my candidacy for Adams County Commissioner. I decided to run for specific, issues-based reasons one of which I will discuss here. While my decision to run means time, expense and plenty of hard work, I have found that it has a redeeming feature, the opportunity to see and reconnect with so many friends and fellow Adams Countians, some of whom I have not seen since I was a commissioner a dozen years ago.

I served as Adams County Commissioner from 1991 to January 2004. I served a portion of an appointed term and three elected terms. When my father fell ill in early 2003, I decided not to seek another term, although in fact I had come to the conclusion that it was time for others to step forward and lead.

Since leaving office, I have been working professionally as an energy and resource management consultant, often focused on projects far away from Adams County. One of the things I have done a lot of since I was a county commissioner is economic development work—bringing new business opportunities to communities to create jobs and wealth. Managing resources is a good first step in creating business opportunities for a community, and learning how to manage resources sustainably helps to create businesses that are sustainable—businesses that will grow and prosper for a long time to come. Farmers know what I am talking about because they do a lot of that right here in Adams County.

There has been a lot of talk by the current board of commissioners about economic development vs. agricultural land preservation, as if agriculture is not economic development. Sometimes agricultural preservation and, by extension, agriculture, gets a bad name because agricultural preservation is not viewed as development. A false dichotomy grows up between development and preservation and development and agriculture.

In fact, agricultural preservation is just one tool in our economic development tool box, and when we talk about agriculture in Adams County, we should really be talking about the opportunity for economic development, and, with it, the potential for a wide array of value-added opportunities based on or related to agriculture.

Stated another way, we should not be juxtaposing agriculture with economic development. In fact, we should be viewing it as economic development. And, in so doing, we should be building an economic development strategy for Adams County based on agriculture, as well as on Adams County’s other special strengths, namely its beauty, its historic importance, its abundant natural resources, its human capital, and its small town quality of life—all extremely valuable assets for a comprehensive economic development strategy. These assets, by the way, all relate directly or indirectly back to our strong agricultural economy.

In listening to the commissioners, I have concluded that they have lost their way on economic development, and are dangerously off course. They in fact seem to have turned their back on what previous boards of commissioners so carefully built up, and are determined to destroy long standing policy and practice in their quest for a new direction, which could turn out to be very harmful for Adams County.

They have been aided in this by a person many have come to know as the "fourth commissioner," the county manager. This person was brought in late in 2010 by the previous board of commissioners and now costs us well over $100,000. When I was a commissioner I had stoutly opposed the creation of this position for precisely the reasons that have become apparent to us now: the tendency of this position to accumulate too much power, dominate the commissioners, subjugate the department heads and intimidate the staff. All of this has come to pass with this county manager. As an outsider, he has taken policy positions antithetical to Adams County, one of which is his position against agriculture as economic development, calling it a business of the past, not the future. This is dead wrong for Adams County, and it is this kind of dangerous attitude that has brought me back into public life.

Let’s turn briefly to what economic development is for Adams County.

First, I would note that I have been involved in economic development in Adams County since at least 1986, when I was elected to Gettysburg Borough Council with one purpose in mind, to find a developer for Hotel Gettysburg and replace the burned-out ruin on the Square. Other projects I helped complete during four years on Council included the beautified center square, the Historic Pathway Plan, the new Adams County Library, and several restored or new, in-fill housing developments in town.

My work in economic development continued as county commissioner. My first elected board (Tom, Dick and Harry) purchased the Adams Commerce Center and empowered the Economic Development Corporation to develop it. We brought in Pella Windows, perhaps the best example of what the Commerce Center was meant to attract. I was deeply involved in two economic protection efforts—fighting the 500 kV line that would have sliced through our Fruitbelt and fighting Plum Pox, helping Penn State Cooperative Extension to lead the charge on eradication. I went to Washington with the Fruit Growers’ Association to obtain $6 million in crop insurance for the affected growers. Other economic development efforts included saving and restoring the Sachs Covered Bridge, supporting the Reliant Energy peaking station and opposing the Walmart Distribution Center, which would have placed 1,500 trucks daily on Route 15.

So what is economic development? It is about making choices—and really getting behind those that add value to Adams County, not take it away. It is about building on our strengths, not undermining them and enabling Peter to rob Paul. We must constantly go back to our strengths and ask: "How can we build on these?"

Agriculture also means food processing, boxes and packaging, pallets, bottles and cans, wholesale and direct marketing, feed, fertilizer, fuel, farm machinery, breeding, animal husbandry, meat packing, organic foods, farm to table, farm markets, trucking, exports, selling and brokering, advertising, restaurants, tourism, insurance, veterinary services, other support services and the list goes on. So agriculture in Adams County is not just agricultural preservation, it is also business and industry. Therefore, we should not be talking about preservation vs. development but preservation and development.

If I had space I would go on about our other strengths: our human capital, our unique quality of life, our natural resources and so on. Each of these is a foundation for a winning economic development strategy.

One thing to mention is that this new digital age has served as a great equalizer for rural communities and represents an opportunity for economic development in Adams County. Businesses with world-wide reach can be conducted from Adams County. New Oxford, McSherrystown and Fairfield now have some of the same opportunities as Washington, New York or even Silicon Valley. You don’t have to be in the big city to run a global business. You can do it from an office in Carroll Valley, with small town costs and small town quality of life. We have a number of businesses in Adams County that exemplify this. We can and want to encourage more, because these provide employment for our highly educated young people. A key factor in attracting these businesses is quality of life. Quality of life means good schools, vibrant arts and entertainment, diversity and thriving small businesses, from bread bakers to cider mills to restaurants to fine crafts.

Providing tax breaks to attract big box stores is unfortunately not an economic development strategy, but may in fact be an economic destruction strategy. Rather than paying for national retail chains to come to Adams County, we should be encouraging locally owned businesses to take root and grow. These do not extract resources from the county but instead create wealth in the county that stays in the county. The multiplier effect for big box retail may actually be negative, while for locally owned businesses it is positive, 7 to 10X or more.

There is a lot more to be said about the right kind of economic development policy for Adams County. I will be devoting much attention to this during the campaign.

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