Trone meets with local officials, emphasizes need to market Allegany, Garrett
Credit: Cumberland Times-News, Teresa McMinn
CUMBERLAND — They brought to the table differing backgrounds, experiences and ideas on how to create more jobs in the area. They left with a plan to work as a team, chip away at barriers and build opportunities for local people to live the American dream.
The future of the country’s economic health depends on entrepreneurs, and more mentorship is needed for new businesses at the local level.
That’s part of the message U.S. Rep. David Trone delivered during a roundtable discussion with several local leaders from Allegany and Garrett counties at the Cumberland Country Club on Thursday.
Organizations represented at the meeting included area colleges, Chamber of Commerce and tourism offices.
“We need to market Allegany, Garrett counties,” Trone said. “It’s a beautiful landscape (and) a great way of life.”
Trone’s Cumberland office, 217 Glenn St., will be open Mondays and Thursdays, and offer evening appointments, he said.
“We’re here to solve problems,” Trone added. “They turn into opportunities.”
He talked of his business, Total Wine & More, which he owns with his brother. The company started small and today has nearly 200 stores in two dozen states.
Trone also addressed the abrupt closing of the Luke paper mill, which he called an “atrocity.”
Allegany County Administrator Brandon Butler started the discussion by highlighting area partnerships that promote workforce development and education. He stressed the need to move forward and “focus on resources we do have.”
The meeting also covered challenges in the community.
Allegany College of Maryland Director of Career & Employer Solutions Becky Ruppert talked of having to frequently rely on grant funding requirements.
For example, non-credited programs that allow high school students from the Center for Career and Technical Education to train at the college are beneficial, but can be fairly expensive and excluded from grants, she said.
Cumberland Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Paul J. Kelly Jr. talked of urban blight problems in the city.
“It’s overwhelming,” he said of old buildings that contain asbestos and involve tax sales.
“If decaying properties were removed, more space would be free to occupy businesses and create jobs,” Kelly said.
“We need to attract the millennials,” he said. “That generation — defined by Pew Research Center as including anyone born between 1981 and 1996 — wants to be in communities that have businesses such as Starbucks and Target,” he said.
Kelly also said the high cost of health insurance is a deterrent for many folks who want to start their own business.
“Healthcare is out of control,” he said.
Timi Hadra, partner at IBM in nearby Rocket Center, West Virginia, said it’s difficult to retain workers. The company attracts good employees, but some leave in a year or two.
Part of the problem is due to a lack of reasonably priced local homes, she said. Millennials often have student loans to pay off and need affordable housing that won’t require costly repairs, she said.
Allegany County tourism director Ashli Workman talked of a continued effort between Allegany and Garrett officials to brand the area’s outdoor assets as “the mountainside of Maryland” and attract new residents as well as tourists to the area.
“We are the playground of Maryland, really,” she said.
Local infrastructure — including the need for water and broadband systems — also presents challenges for the area, said Mike Hough, Garrett County’s director of economic development.
“It’s impossible to run a business without great broadband,” he said.
Greater Cumberland Committee Executive Director Jennifer Walsh said a meeting will be held next month to discuss legislation for major roadways that cross state lines. The variance between laws for adjacent states, including Maryland and Pennsylvania, can be cumbersome and slow progress.
The talk concluded with Trone’s invitation to keep open communication lines.
“I want to continue this dialogue,” he said.