Kent County, Maryland
Agricultural by nature
Business View Magazine interviews representatives from Kent County, Maryland for our focus on Sustainability and Economic Development in American Cities.
Kent County is a scenic peninsula on Maryland’s Upper Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, ideally situated less than a two-hour drive from Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Annapolis, and Northern Virginia. Named for the county of Kent in England, it is the least populous county in Maryland, and its predominately rural landscape is blessed with rich soil.
Given the amount of Chesapeake Bay shoreline in the county, British ships and Royal Marines were never very far away during the War of 1812. From a historical point of view, the unspoiled nature of Kent County makes it easy to imagine what it must have been like there 200 years ago when the raid on Georgetown and the Battle of Caulk’s Field occurred.
Quaint waterfront towns including Chestertown (the County Seat), Rock Hall, Galena, Betterton, and Millington are favorite destinations for sunset cruise charters, small beaches, kayaking, fishing charters, boating, sailing, museums, theaters, art galleries, brick sidewalk shopping, antiquing, farmers’ and Artisans markets, local seafood (Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab!), and Maryland’s second largest collection of 18th century structures.
Business View Magazine recently spoke with Amy Moredock, Director Kent County Planning, Housing, and Zoning, Jamie Williams, Director Kent County Economic Development, and Scott Boone, Director Information Technology, about the challenges facing Kent County and ongoing solutions that are helping drive its growth. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.
BVM: How would you describe the makeup of Kent County, Maryland?
Williams: “Kent County is a rural community with 91 percent of our land zoned agricultural. Our five economic drivers include agriculture, education, healthcare, manufacturing, and tourism. In our Comprehensive Plan, we want to remain agricultural in nature; that component also promotes our tourism, it’s such a beautiful place to live. We want controlled, sustainable growth, it’s a careful balance.”
“We’ve embarked on a major infrastructure project for fiber, we want to attract high-paying jobs with low environmental impacts. That’s important because we’re surrounded on three sides by water, and water recreation, maritime businesses, and the seafood industry are all very important to our community.”
BVM: What is involved in the fiber project?
Boone: “There are 110 miles of high-capacity linear fiber throughout Kent County, built in a way that we have a number of redundant links, with very few laterals. The strategy we used to build the fiber network was to connect government anchor sites – anything from public safety (firehouses, police stations) to library branches, schools, or government buildings. We went from about 17 sites connected, to now approaching 69. In a small county like Kent, having that many government anchor sites is a big deal.
“It’s a public-private partnership – the private side is a company called Kent Fiber Optic Systems, who takes the responsibility of leasing the dark fiber. They have two internet tenants right now: Fiber-to-the-home company, ThinkBig Networks, and a wireless service provider, Cambio Networks, which just signed a contract to use the fiber to transport to towers, and from the towers, they bring wireless to the home. Dark fiber means you hand over a dark tube and the customer lights it themselves using their own equipment. Lit fiber means you’re paying for a lit service from a provider. There are some local businesses that have already leased dark fiber, and quite a few that are on the lit fiber.”
“With the government services side, we’re turning our anchor sites into ‘Homework Hotspots,’ where we build out free wireless – canopies, in some instances, over parks, beaches, and government owned structures – and we use the government buildings. We have a KentHotspots.com website that shows students the locations and how to connect. In the five months (May to October 2018), the public pulled 432 gigs across our 13 hotspots. To show how fast that’s rising, the first eight days of November, the public pulled 47 gigs and that’s free Wi-Fi to students.”
BVM: Do you have a comprehensive growth strategy?
Williams: “We are focused on enhancing our current businesses and attracting businesses that offer controlled, sustainable growth such as technology-based businesses that can use the fiber capacity; data centers, call centers, designers, engineers, consultants – types that fall in line with our comprehensive plan and smart growth strategies. We are also focused on small businesses and fostering entrepreneurship in our community and especially with our youth.”
Moredock: “Within the last five years, we’ve seen a lot of expansion of existing businesses. Many are agriculture-related. Willards Agri-Service, a seed grain and fertilizer plant has been steadily growing for years. Also, there’s been approval of a new Southern States, which is also a fertilizer provider, and Delmarva Feed & Farm Service has been continually growing, as well; so much so, that some of the businesses are growing out of their zoning districts.
“The updated Kent County, Maryland Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2018, has enhanced strategies for flexible growth in our Rte. 301 Corridor – a focused area for large-scale development in the county because of its access to rail and major highways. Work continues with the Town of Millington in that area on infrastructure upgrades and a proposal to upgrade the wastewater treatment facility. Through Smart Growth initiatives and the natural lay of the land, 57 percent of the county land mass is designated as prime agriculture soil and that area has dictated where the most viable agricultural industries are located and has supported our agricultural zoning.
“Through practice and policy, the most intense development is focused on our five incorporated towns, and the county works very closely with them on assisting with services and coordinating project reviews. They also work together to provide services outside town boundaries in designated Priority Funding Areas. The county also provides its own wastewater treatment and water treatment facilities in some of our villages. We continue to see a high rate of farm operations that are growing and continue to be viable and participate in agricultural preservation easements.”
BVM: Is Kent County, Maryland assisting with redevelopment projects in the towns?
Moredock: “The county recently completed an annexation project with Chestertown (the County Seat), which allowed one of our major employers to build a new warehousing facility. Dixon Valve & Coupling Co. is completing the first phase of its growth on property that was recently annexed, so the town can provide water, wastewater, and access to the road network. The Town of Rock Hall has seen a surge in retail over the last few years, including a Dollar General. Rock Hall’s maritime-based economy is transitioning to a closer relationship between the boating industry and tourism. Their redevelopment has included a recent adoption of a Waterfront Community Plan, combining a land use plan, a historic preservation plan, and a maritime use plan.”
Williams: “Chestertown is a designated Maryland Main Street, and Rock Hall is working on that initiative, too. Currently, they’re an affiliate program, so the towns are really starting to focus on retail, events, and attractions to their community. A quarter of our population lives in Chestertown and all our major employers are there. Washington College, our largest by number of employees, has done a lot of major projects and continues to build. Gillespie Precast, Dixon Specialty Products, and LaMotte Chemical have also expanded their facilities and workforce.
“Dixon Valve & Coupling is locating their new warehouse distribution facility on an 82-acre parcel of land. KRM Development and KRM Construction just completed the first building, which is 188,000 square feet, four acres under roof. They’re scheduled to break ground soon on the second of four buildings that are being built to meet the needs of Dixon. The project is called the Business Campus which also includes six apartment buildings (pre-approved by the town) and speculative space to attract other businesses Kent County.”
BVM: Is environmental sustainability a concern for Kent County, Maryland?
Moredock: Yes. Kent County, Maryland has a Watershed Improvement Plan in place and several initiatives fall under that, in terms of environmental protection measures, water resource protection, habitat protection areas, stormwater management, agricultural best management practice review; all those areas are addressed and reported back to the state in various forms. In recent years, we’ve seen a push to open up our agricultural zoning to renewable energy systems. The county has been pressured to allow utility-scale solar systems in its agricultural zoning district – which is strictly prohibited.
“Having convened a Renewable Energy Task Force, the County Commissioners adopted zoning text amendments to allow for renewable energy provisions in certain zoning districts, but the county did take a stand – finding that utility-scale renewable energy is an industrial use and not compatible with our agricultural industry or the agricultural zoning district. There’s a lack of understanding by large solar companies that open land in an agricultural community is an important part of that industry.”
Williams: The county already has more [residential] solar per capita than any county in Maryland, so we’re not against it. We just want it strategically placed in the right location. It all comes down to protecting the rural gem that is Kent County.”
Check out this handpicked feature on The Maryland Green Registry.
AT A GLANCE
Who: Kent County, Maryland
What: Scenic, agriculture-based peninsula
Where: Upper Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland
Kent County Economic Development – www.kentcounty.com/business
Kent County Economic Development promotes activities that enhance the business community, the services, and income opportunities available to residents, as well as the social well-being and quality of life for all community members. Leveraging digital infrastructure to retain and expand existing businesses and increase their competitiveness and attract new businesses.