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Star Democrat: Franchot tours county biz center

EASTON — It was known as the “old Black & Decker building” long after the corporation had left the premises and the county, gathering dust, mice and nesting birds.

But now the Talbot County Business Center (TCBC), as it has been known for a year, is a hub of activity for 13 businesses and county agencies. It caught the attention of the state’s chief finance officer and business cheerleader. Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot stopped by mid-afternoon on Monday, March 19, for a tour of the business center at Easton Parkway and Glebe Road.

“I promise you we can fill this up, but we have to appeal to millennials,” Franchot said. “If we ask ... smart, innovative entrepreneurs from other states to come, they’ll come. I think you have a good product here.”

Just over 55 percent of the 242,828 square-foot facility is occupied. Seven businesses lease 92,000 square feet while county departments occupy less than half that amount.

“We’ve started to lease space to businesses that are in expansion mode or just getting started,” Cassandra Vanhooser, director of Economic Development and Tourism, told Franchot.

Franchot stopped by to acknowledge that the TCBC is a “great incubator” for business, Vanhooser said.

“It’s good to be able to offer businesses space at a reasonable rate to help them get their foot in the door,” Talbot County Council President Jennifer Williams said.

Franchot met business owners and Talbot County Sheriff Joe Gamble as they explained how they use the space for a variety of purposes.

First on the tour was Kevin White’s Global Vision 2020 which occupies just 1,600 square feet surrounded by a chain link fence in the vast warehouse space.

White explained how his award-winning company creates diagnostics and eyeglasses for 2.5 billion impoverished villagers in remote locations of the world. White’s homeschooled son Oliver, a seventh-grader, said he will soon be the warehouse facilities manager.

“God bless you for thinking globally, but we need to think locally, too,” Franchot said. He said there were tens of thousands of Marylanders who can’t see. “I’m all for Tanzania, but I’m all for Maryland, too.”

The Whalen Company occupies the largest business square footage at 56,685. Other companies include Easton Utilities, Global Vision 2020, The Talaria Company, Superior Staging and Redesign, Maverick Transport and Oak Creek Estate Services.

Craig Wanner, president and CEO of The Whalen Company explained how his pioneering business manufactures HVAC vertical stack riser heat-exchanger fan coil units and water-source heat pumps for hotels, apartments and other multi-story buildings.

The TCBC is one of three facilities Wanner uses to manufacture the HVAC units. He told Franchot the company hired 25 new employees in December, bringing the total to about 137 employees.

Franchot visited Ronald Endzel and sons Michael and Scott. Endzel owns Maverick Transport, a third-party logistics company that handles 25,000 carriers contracted nationwide. He said he was hoping to expand.

“Great, happy to hear it,” Franchot said. He handed out comptroller’s medallions to the Endzels, as he did to about a dozen people on the tour.

Endzel thanked Franchot for giving a large certificate to a senior league baseball team from Talbot County that he managed. The team won the 2011 world series in Maine.

“Yours was the (recognition) that meant the most to the team, the parents and (everyone) on the Eastern Shore,” Endzel said. Franchot gave the credit to his chief of staff Len Foxwell of Easton.

Franchot asked for questions and comments.

“Some of the hurdles we come across ... are economically feasible office space in larger quantities; it’s very scarce down here,” Endzel said. “And talented employees. I read in the paper that we have a high number of retirees, and it’s hard to recruit down in this area, so you start wondering if you should start looking in other areas.”

“I am on all-fours trying to recruit millennials from around the country,” Franchot said. “If I succeed I’m going to send them on to you. They’re unbelievably talented people, and they’re very mobile.”

About an hour into the tour, Sheriff Joe Gamble concluded it with a walk-through of the new Talbot County Sheriff’s Office which leases almost 24,000 square feet.

Gamble explained that the sheriff’s office move to the TCBC on a temporary basis allowed a central booking area to be established in his old office closer to the jail, creating a more efficient and cost-effective arrangement for law enforcement.

The county departments of Emergency Services, Economic Development and Tourism, Election Board, Health and Facilities share space for storage and interior training space.

Multiple common areas used by tenants total roughly 23,000 square feet, according to the Department of Economic Development and Tourism.

“All I can say is, this is the future — these facilities which are creatively and innovatively employed and deployed (for) manufacturing and other jobs that they produce,” Franchot said.

The county earns about $300,000 per year in leases.

The county-owned $6 million property includes 56 acres that will eventually be used for the Federal Aviation Administration-mandated Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) at Easton Airport/Newnam Field.

The county put up the money with the understanding that it would be reimbursed by the airport when it received funds from the federal and state government.

The facility at 28712 Glebe Road was built in 1974 by Black & Decker and occupied by the company until 2003, the year the manufacturer left the area, and Pettinaro, a real estate company in Newport, Del., bought the building. Pettinaro rented the building to government contractor SFA, Sotera Defense Solutions and Outdoor Venture Products. Although the RPZ will require that the building eventually be taken down, it still has plenty of life left, and planners hope that businesses take advantage of relatively lower costs of renting existing space.

“It’s not a huge expenditure if you weigh what it costs to reconfigure existing space compared to buying land and erecting a new building,” Vanhooser said in June 2017.

“Talbot County bought this building because it fulfilled a long-term need for the Easton Airport,” Vanhooser said. “That we are able to use it to help other businesses and county departments with their short-term needs is a real bonus. “We’ve made it very clear from the beginning that eventually the building will come down (for the RPZ),” said Sam Shoge, economic development coordinator.

According to the FAA, “runway protection zones are a trapezoidal area ‘off the end of the runway end that serves to enhance the protection of people and property on the ground’ in the event an aircraft lands or crashes beyond the runway end.”

The Talbot County Business Center is located near the southern end of Easton Airport’s Runway 4-22.

The RPZ is part of Easton Airport’s Capital Improvement Plan, according to airport manager Mike Henry. The planned demolition of TCBC which was originally scheduled for 2026 is now planned for 2023, and could be moved up to 2021, Henry said.

Reimbursement for the Talbot County Business Center (TCBC) property on Easton Parkway and Glebe Road “was originally scheduled for 50 percent this year and 50 percent in 2020,” Henry said. “Now we’ll receive over 50 percent this year and the balance next year.”

Airport Capital Improvement Plan depends on the FAA’s Aviation Trust Fund for 90 percent of its funding, the Maryland Aviation Administration (MAA) for five percent with the remaining five percent generated by airport revenue.

Airport revenue comes from aviation fuel and cargo taxes, as well as passenger facility fees.

Once the FAA and MAA funds are paid to the airport, the airport will take over ownership of the TCBC.

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