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From Desert To Oasis, EDC Updates County Council On Plans To Bring New Life To Food Deserts

Jim Coleman, President & CEO, PGCEDC (left) with Council Member Andrea Harrison, (center) and Cailey Locklair Tolle, President of the Maryland Retailers Association at PZED Committee HearingUpper Marlboro, MD, November 1, 2016 - Last week, Prince George's County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) President and CEO Jim Coleman appeared before the Prince George's County Council Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee (PZED) to discuss trends in retail, particularly grocery stores, as well as the County's plans for continued investment in existing stores in the region.  Mr. Coleman and Business Development Director, Larry Hentz highlighted the causes that are contributing to food deserts in the County and outlined the strategies the EDC is engaging to address this regional trend and ensure that quality grocers are thriving throughout the County.
 
"We will not tolerate third world access to healthy food choices for any of our residents in Prince George's County," said Coleman.  "At the EDC, we are committed to first world access to quality grocery stores which improves our health and ultimately brings down the cost of medical care in the County. We pledge to make healthy food options available for all and to leave no resident behind!"
 
Sections of Prince George's County have been labeled 'food deserts' by the U.S. Department of Agriculture due to the lack of fresh food choices available in local grocery stores.  In some areas, primarily inside the Beltway, individuals must travel a significant distance away from their homes before they find a full service grocery store.  The EDC has been diligently working with regional officials from the top grocers in the Metropolitan area, as well as newer grocery store chains to eliminate those deserts.  Many of these grocery chains are moving toward a new model for the delivery of their services, including home delivery and online shopping as a means of providing residents with fresh produce from local farmers, keeping store costs down, and respecting the needs of their customers. 
 
In developing an in-depth strategy to stem the tide of food deserts in Prince George's County, the EDC is: 1) meeting with regional headquarters for grocery stores on a regular basis; 2) participating in regional and national conferences to identify and attract new grocers; 3) encouraging current grocery store chains to expand; 4) developing a list of possible backfill grocery stores from outside the area; and 5) utilizing economic development tools such as the Grocery Store Tax Credit and Enterprise Zone Tax Credits,workforce training and employment services, site tours, and attendance at the International Council of Shopping Centers Conference.  As a result of these current strategies, five new grocery stores have opened in Prince George's County in the past 18 months, and a College Park Whole Foods will open this quarter.
 
"For quite a while now, the Council has been concerned about why grocers are leaving our communities; especially the larger ones because they have such a presence," said County Council Member Andrea Harrison (Dist. 5). "Today, we learned more about how to embrace the new strategies that will allow all of our grocers to provide products for all of our residents.  We truly appreciate the EDC's phenomenal presentation, which provided the insight and research support to help us understand what is going on much clearer."
 
Council members were pleased to hear about other incentives and partnerships that the EDC is working, including converting older shopping centers into food depots for convenient shopping in food deserts.  They were also pleased to hear that Weis and LIDL are coming to the market, Harris Teeter is searching for more County locations, Whole Foods and Walmart are assessing this market, and several independent grocery concepts that will be expanding into the County.  Council members also heard from Cailey Locklair Tolle, President of the Maryland Retailers Association and Dyana Forester, Community and Political Lead Representative with UFCW Local 400.
 
For more information about grocery store strategies to eliminate food deserts in Prince George's County, contact Larry Hentz, EDC Business Development Director, at 301-583-4650 or lhentz@co.pg.md.us
 
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