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Merging Urban With Rural

Mountain getaway

Garrett County is a place to unwind and an affordable home for broadband connected businesses.

In a recent article in the New York Times, Eduardo Porter looks at the complexities of reviving rural communities that have suffered declines since the economic backslide in 2008.

Garrett County is not unlike what Porter describes with one major exception. The Appalachian Mountains of Western Maryland are a haven for urban dwellers who grow weary from the fast-paced, congested surroundings they battle each day. Tourism in this unique county has grown 6 percent year over year credited to the area's Chamber of Commerce's aggressive marketing strategy.

With inflated urban markets and deflated rural economies, blending the two would appear to be a good pairing to resolve the woes of both. Diversifying the footprint of wealth across Maryland could also reduce financial burdens on the state budget.

In a report published in November, Mark Muro, William Galston and Clara Hendrickson of the Brookings Institution laid out a portfolio of ideas to rescue the substantial swath of the country that they identify as “left behind.” They identify critical shortages bedeviling declining communities: workers with digital skills, broadband connections, capital. And they have plans to address them through I.T. training and education initiatives, regulatory changes to boost lending to small businesses, and incentives to invest in broadband.

Garrett County has already taken steps to address what most rural communities and experts are just figuring out. Garrett College proudly opened the doors to its brand new technology wing with a generous gift for sustainable funding and has been offering free tuition to in-county high school graduates for a decade. Industrial parks are broadband-ready and connected businesses are seizing on it. The area is also a HUBZone (Historically Underutilized Business Zone) which gives smaller, remote areas ranking advantages to secure government contract work.

Wisely, the Brooking's Institution team suggests that any federal government effort must choose its targets carefully. Better to focus on middle-sized places like Garrett County that are near big tech hubs and have some critical infrastructure, rather than scatter assistance all over the landscape.

Innovative companies tend to locate where other successful, innovative companies are. That’s where they can find lots of highly skilled workers. The more densely packed these pools of talent are, the more workers can learn from each other and the more productive they become. This dynamic feeds on itself, drawing more high-tech firms and highly skilled workers to where they already are located.

Fortunately, for Garrett County, the popular getaway location is just a short jaunt from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Washington, D.C. metro hub including Northern Virginia, and densely populated Maryland suburbs. The big three, VA, MD, and D.C. all co-mingle their housing and workforce.

As Amazon migrates east to their new headquarters in Northern Virginia, an explosion of jobs, population, and wealth will overtake the already bloated living conditions pricing some businesses and residents out of the market.

Respected Universities within a 3-hour radius in MD, VA, WV, PA, and D.C. are also cranking out a new generation of work-ready students who may not be looking to live an urban or even suburban lifestyle.

Outdoor recreation is at an all-time high which has been acknowledged by a national initiative to track spending through park visits and outfitter sales. Startups, corporate divisions, young talent and their families looking for a remote location with outdoor assets have a nearby option in Garrett County.

Success stories of discovering remote office spaces will encourage others to follow suit. Once the wave begins it's more a matter of when and not if rural economies across the nation will see a rebound.

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