Updated: Mar 29, 2020
Engage Mountain Maryland held its annual meeting for paid members at the Oakland B&O Railroad Station, Thursday, December 12. President, Mark Stutzman presented an overview of the nonprofit's work since its founding in 2015 on behalf of the organization's board members.
EMM's founding centered on the controversial fracking issue but as Stutzman pointed out, it was a symptom of a larger concern – governance and leadership.
"It's important that our elected officials take all businesses into account when making sweeping economic decisions," he said. "With tourism being our strongest economic engine, fracking could have potentially destroyed it and then the county would be at the mercy of the oil and gas industry."
Following the fracking ban that passed in the 2017 General Assembly, EMM began to focus on economic solutions that would be "compatible with existing business" according to Stutzman. One solution has been branded as Adventure Capital and was conceived of by board member and treasurer, Eric Robison.
"We're not looking to reinvent the wheel here," said Robison. "Moving businesses located in densely populated and expensive urban markets like Baltimore, D.C., and Northern Virginia to Garrett County makes sense. With a broadband connection, companies can save money and provide a more pleasant work/play environment for employees."
Member Jim Long pointed out that not all corners of Garrett County are equipped with broadband service yet. Robison confirmed that but added the industrial parks are ready to go with high-speed fiber connections that would be a great starting point. Through further discussion, everyone agreed countywide broadband should be a priority to make the county ready to accept potential businesses who may be seeking a rural location to set up shop.
Stutzman also touched on several county issues including access to public transportation, preserving community schools, and the proposed legislation from the Kirwan Commission to increase public education funding statewide.
Board Member Judy Carbone noted that she is frustrated when the knee-jerk reaction to the Kirwan proposal is, "We can't afford it." She noted that education is tied directly to a successful economy and that Garrett County and Maryland needs to be competitive with other areas on education to attract young families and properly prepare our kids for the future.
Stutzman responded to Carbone's comment that the state can't afford not to increase funding to our schools particularly with declining test scores reported recently.
Carbone set the record straight that earlier claims of local taxes jumping by 25% to pay for the Kirwan proposal are purely inaccurate. She called attention to the need for an adjustment to the "Wealth Formula" that is hurting Garrett County's state funding.
"The way the formula is written ranks us as one of the wealthiest counties in the state due to property values around Deep Creek Lake, yet the median income for residents ranks near the bottom," she said.
Carbone did say that adjusting the wealth formula would be greatly advantageous for Garrett County but possibly detrimental to some other counties that could end up with decreased funding.
As the presentation concluded, Stutzman noted the three areas of focus for EMM that would include encouraging a comprehensive Economic Development Plan and Strategy, Education, and Public Transporation. He said all three areas of focus have the potential to help the local economy and make Garrett County a prime location to live and a place for businesses and individuals to thrive.
EMM is committed to working with county and state government officials, as well as other community groups to advocate for and actively, engage in the development of:
COMPREHENSIVE ECONOMIC PLAN
A comprehensive county-wide economic plan has the potential to foster existing businesses and encourage future compatible development that enhances and promotes the rural experience. Full-time population growth is a vital aspect to a healthy economy so understanding what drives people to places could steer the County's focus on how to appeal to those who would appreciate and respect the rural lifestyle.
Providing a responsive public transportation system will allow those without personal means to have access to jobs, health care, social functions, and more. User-friendly access would no longer segregate the community based on where people live, their ability to afford private vehicles, and supplement riders with special circumstances that could disrupt regular routines. Currently, a reservation system with Garrett Transit Service leaves huge gaps in spontaneous or routine transportation needs for area residents and visitors.
Support for increased education funding and preserving community schools is vital to making Garrett County attractive to young families. Having schools where people live is an important part of the local economy and encourages parent participation and builds school pride. Educators have expressed new student behavioral health needs beyond teaching to keep their classrooms more effective and focused while making sure each student is getting the most out of their classroom time that needs attention and smart solutions. Children are the future, and a proven investment in their success has a direct return.
Membership to Engage Mountain Maryland is free, however, paid memberships help fund ongoing m