Updated: Mar 29, 2020
According to recent statistics presented by the Garrett County Commissioners, an estimated 1,000 businesses employ roughly half of the 30,000 residents in Garrett County.
The Garrett County Democratic Club hosted the nonpartisan public meeting at Garrett College which brought out more than 90 people anxious to hear how the county is doing.
Previous Director of Economic Development and now Commissioner Jim Hinebaugh shared that the county has 910 businesses. Between those businesses the total workforce is 15,566, which he pointed out, fluctuates due to seasonal employment needs. Based on the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the county averaged 68 new businesses per year from 2014 to 2017.
“We’ve only lost about one-third of the businesses that started in 2014,” Hinebaugh said.
He noted that as many as 80 percent of small businesses fail in the first five years. About one-third of Garrett County businesses started in 2014 are no longer operating, placing the county ahead of national average.
Between 2013 and 2017, Garrett County business owners made capital investments totaling about $21.5 million, according to the Maryland Department of Taxation and Assessments.
Hinebaugh said that capital investment figure was based on businesses that had applied for the county tax credit.
A list of the county's top employers and the number of residents they employ are as follows:
456 - Garrett Regional Medical Center
331 - Beitzel/Pillar
232 - ClosetMaid
220 - Wisp Resort (more than 600 during ski season)
156 - Total Biz Fulfillment
156 - Arrowhead
152 - Umbel & Umbel
150 - Smiley’s
115 - Phenix Technologies
103 - Garrett Container Systems
80 - GCC Technologies
According to studies, Hinebaugh stated that 80 percent of new jobs come from existing businesses and that this information should guide the county's focus. He shared that it’s a lot easier to help existing businesses grow than it is to recruit new businesses to the area.
The county’s top three industry sectors are trade, transportation, and utilities, which amount to about 22 percent of the number of total businesses. Leisure and hospitality services make up 15.1 percent, and education and health services, about 15 percent.
In addition, Garrett County workers are paid less than the state average in most cases. The average weekly pay in Garrett County’s trade, transportation and utilities sector is $556, compared to the state’s $850. In leisure and hospitality, the local average is $344, compared to Maryland’s $455. In education and health services, the local average weekly pay is $723, compared to $1,011.
The only sector in Hinebaugh’s chart in which local residents received a higher weekly pay was in the natural resources and mining sector: $1,142, compared to the state average of $777. He concluded that the average weekly wage in Garrett County is about 59 percent of the state weekly average.
During the question and answer portion of the presentation, The Commissioners were asked about the disparity between pay for men and women and that women in the county make 69 cents for every dollar a man makes, 13 cents less than national averages. In response, they said they were unaware of the gender inequity or how they might go about improving it.
Limited broadband access, limited affordable housing, and financial resources were some obstacles facing many rural communities according to Challenges to Growth, Opportunities for Growth and Initiatives. Areas for potential growth include health services, tourism, and retirees. Trends show that future opportunities may be found with light manufacturing, internet-based businesses, small/micro businesses, robotics, and teleworking.
Current initiatives Hinebaugh shared include building a spec building at the unoccupied McHenry Business Park, infrastructure investments such as water and sewer projects, robotics, and health care and medical services.
Hinebaugh noted that 4,749 people commute out of the county every day to work which may be to achieve higher wages elsewhere. He also noted that 3,956 people commute to Garrett County to work, leaving county employee exports at 793. Hinebaugh felt this was an expression of a more regional economy where all the local jurisdictions are intertwined.
“When you deal with economic development, you can’t just focus on political boundaries,” Hinebaugh said. “It doesn’t work.”
He noted the county’s year-to-date unemployment rate for 2018 is 6.6 percent which is 2 percent above the state average and .5 percent down from last year's local rate.
"In my view, Hinebaugh had two wrong answers," Said Michael Bell, Executive Director of the Coalition for Effective Local Democracy. He inquired about how the economic plan was developed in the past, and how a new one would be crafted? "First, the current economic plan should be scraped, not amended, refined, or updated."
Hinebaugh responded to Bell's concerns stating that he was not in favor of too much public input. He thought it would be best if 10 to 12 experts got together to develop a plan and then present it to the public for comment.
"Second," Bell continues, "Developing a new plan should be a bottom-up public process through the county Department of Economic Development, not another behind-closed-doors exercise by 10 or 12 experts."
Garrett County's median household income is $46,277, compared to $76,067 for the state median income.
“There are studies that show that lifelong earning is pretty much a function of educational attainment,” Hinebaugh said. The county is “making good progress” on the number of people who have bachelor’s and associate’s degrees. Although Hinebaugh estimates the number of degrees to have doubled since 1990, he says the county still lags behind state and national averages.
Currently, 8.2 percent of Garrett County residents age 25 and older have at least an associate’s degree, 10.4 percent have a bachelor’s, 8.9 percent have a graduate or professional degree, and 18.7 percent have some college, but no degree.
In addition, 42.4 percent have a high school diploma or GED, 7.7 percent have at least a ninth-grade education, and 3.8 percent have less than a ninth-grade education.
There was no discussion of how agriculture fits into the overall economic picture even though it's attributed to being a $36 million slice of the county's economic pie. Small family farms and organic foods are increasing in demand and may be an unrealized value proposition for the county.
“A strong democracy requires informed voters and I was very pleased the Commissioners agreed to this presentation and am grateful for the overview it provided," said Betty Pritt, President of the Democratic Club. "I appreciate their honest evaluation that Garrett County still has some major challenges, especially in the areas of job availability, family-sustaining wages, affordable housing, and infrastructure, including transportation and broadband.”
The commissioners’ PowerPoint presentation from the economic development forum is available HERE.
Content included from: The Garrett County Republican and The Garrett County Democratic Club