By the point in her career that Amy Gowan moved across the border ― so to speak ― from Howard County to Anne Arundel County, she had built an exceptionally strong résumé that prepared her to take over as CEO of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.
Before joining the AAEDC, where Gowan oversees business attraction and retention, workforce development, financial lending, revitalization efforts and small business support, she served as the director of Howard County Planning and Zoning. In that position, she oversaw the review of development projects, commercial center redevelopment, long-range community planning, etc.
Key initiatives during her tenure in Howard included creating a new character-based comprehensive plan that focused on sustainable redevelopment, a community engagement effort targeting underrepresented populations, an urban renewal project to redevelop a blighted village center and the creation of its Citizen Planning Academy.
She took the helm of AAEDC in April.
What was your first order of business when you took the reins at the AAEDC?
Learning the lay of the land, figuratively and literally. Anne Arundel County is expansive and geographically diverse, so I spent every week driving with my then-vice president of real estate so I could learn where growth is occurring and what issues we had to address.
Also, we had a few people leave our employ for promotions. That turnover facilitated my building my leadership team and provided opportunities for some of our long-tenured staff.
What will be the early goals of your office?
One area I want to delve into is the redevelopment process for the county. Anne Arundel is a mature market that’s in need of reinvestment. For starters, we need to create affordable homeownership opportunities that will benefit the business and government communities and the community in general. I’m exploring how we can support the county’s goals in that area.
Another situation that struck me is the need for a strategic economic development plan. That’s needed to drive initiatives that are responding to shifts in the market. I’ve given myself a one-year goal to collaborate with stakeholders, support them and develop a plan. I’d like to begin this effort toward the beginning of next fiscal year, around my one-year anniversary in my position.
What new programs and services is the AAEDC working on?
We’re taking what we do well and trying to make it accessible and available to unrepresented populations where English isn’t the first language and where access to capital may be a barrier to growth. Two programs that we have initiated during my tenure are a MicroLoan program and a Spanish version of our signature Inclusive Venture Plan.
The IVP is a business accelerator that consists of an 8-week online class and supports small minority women and veteran-owned businesses that are looking to scale up with the assistance of WHC Consulting. We’ll hit 100 graduates by the end of the year. In addition to the mentorship, business owners receive, they also qualify for a $5,000 grant, then $5,000 more after 18 months. We’re now adapting it into a Spanish curriculum. It will launch on June 24.
In conjunction with the IVP, we’ve developed a MicroLoan program to provide additional capital for companies that have passed any similar accelerator program that lack access to capital or are experiencing credit challenges. We offer very low-interest rates on loans of up to $50,000.
What is your office doing to strengthen the county’s workforce?
That’s our number one issue, across the board. We have strong partnerships with Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corp. and the state, with programs available so we’re always triaging workforce needs to determine which organization is best suited to assist.
That also keeps the labor market flexible and helps to provide matching grants for upscaling. Anecdotally, we’re hearing that employers who are utilizing those grants are saying their employees are staying with their companies longer.
What the best thing the county has going for it?
Our location, with the many assets that make Anne Arundel easy to market. The county offers the state capital of historic Annapolis; the Arundel Mills complex with Live! Hotel & Casino, which attracts more than 10 million visitors annually; Fort Meade, which is the state’s largest employer with more than 60,000 workers; BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and the BWI Business District; the U.S. Naval Academy; and our more than 500 miles of shoreline. Plus, of course, easy access to two Top 20 Metropolitan Statistical Areas.
What can you do to expedite permitting for businesses that are looking to open or expand in the county?
Our office assists businesses in navigating this area, which is one of our core services. County Executive Steuart Pittman is committed to streamlining the permitting process to aid with our economic development projects. With my background, I’m well equipped to address that issue and that’s part of why I’m here.
What are the key differences between working in planning and zoning, and running an economic development organization?
I’ve gone from being a regulator to being a facilitator. That’s been an asset in navigating the regulatory process, understanding the nuances involved and how to solve problems accordingly. Planning and zoning has to balance a variety of interests and many times they can work across different purposes; with economic development, there’s one interest, so that allows me to focus on one sector of the broader community. That’s key when allocating resources.
To read the rest of this interview with Gowan, which includes queries concerning town center development and redevelopment, child care, measuring success and the AAEDC’s challenges, go to www.bizmonthly.com.
What are the main differences in running a corporation like the AAEDC and an authority like the Howard County Economic Development Authority?
There isn’t any legal difference that I’m aware of. We’re both 501(c)(3)s and privatized functions of our respective county governments. In Baltimore County, economic development is a regular county department like many other jurisdictions, but our structure is similar to that of Howard. It allows us to access private funding sources that the government might not be able to connect with and we have much more flexible procurement policies than a regular government office would.
What’s the latest on redevelopment at Annapolis Mall?
As is the case with similar properties around the country, discussions about what to do with the mall are ongoing. We hope to know more about what will happen in the coming year.
What’s new at the Annapolis Town Centre at Parole?
The recent Parole Town Center Master Plan update constitutes a comprehensive overhaul for the first time since 1994. This effort included boundary changes and corresponding code revisions to enhance flexibility and modernize the regulations. The Mall is now in the core, the highest intensity growth area, allowing for redevelopment aligned with Plan 2040, the County’s General Development Plan.
How about Odenton Town Center?
The main item in Odenton is building the garage project in conjunction with the transit-oriented development. That’s in the design phase and we hope to break ground in 2024, with the idea that people will take advantage of quality, reliable transportation. A master plan with code revisions were slated to be delivered to the County Council in November.
And Glen Burnie Town Centre?
Glen Burnie has been an area of focus for our redevelopment team and will be the site for several projects that are financed in the county’s capital budget. We already have a $250,000 grant from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and we are applying for additional funds from the DHCD to start the revitalization plans for the Town Centre.
The AAEDC also recently hired a new town center revitalization manager, Kayleigh De La Puente. She’ll work with the business community for all three town centers, as well as the 11 revitalization areas throughout the county.
What is the county doing to help address the child care crisis?
The AAEDC, the AAWDC and the county’s Partnership for Children, Youth and Families recently partnered on a Childcare Summit to bring together policymakers, child care providers and the business community to discuss challenges and solutions to increasing the supply of quality/affordable child care. The three agencies are partnering to report on ideas generated at the summit and develop an implementation strategy.
Is there a plan to create a new incubator in the county?
The AAEDC is not planning to open a new incubator.
What metrics do you use to measure the success of the AAEDC?
Typical metrics: jobs created, jobs retained and capital investment, as well as those for our loan, workforce and training programs. We also plan to add qualitative data gleaned from the experiences of business owners.
What’s the biggest challenge at the AAEDC?
Across the board with economic development organizations, it’s raising awareness of what we do. Most people don’t know what economic development is or what it’s used to accomplish, so we have to work on expanding our network in a county with 61,000 businesses. The pandemic actually helped with that problem because our office distributed 2,200 grants; that exposure helped.
What’s the biggest surprise you’ve gotten since you joined the AAEDC?
The need for a strategic plan. When you come in from another organization, you’re looking for a road map. We want more focus on attraction in a place that’s naturally attractive, anyway.