Pictured: The New Cornish Café Owner, Emily Berry, EMM Representatives, Mark Stutzman and Eric Robison, and Congressman David Trone meet to discuss the local economy.
OAKLAND–Freshman Congressman, David Trone braved snow storm Quiana to meet with Engage Mountain Maryland (EMM) representatives, Eric Robison and Mark Stutzman at The New Cornish Café in Oakland this morning. They discussed economic growth for Garrett County, the Adventure Capital initiative, and how Trone could provide assistance on a federal level.
"A primary goal would be to complete the last mile of broadband so businesses can easily locate anywhere in the county," said Robison. "We have the basic fiber infrastructure but there are still pockets within the county that are isolated from this essential business technology."
Hard-wired connections to high-speed internet can be costly if a business is considering a new building or a location outside municipal boundaries, according to Stutzman. "Broadband has become as common as telephone or television service these days and in some cases is replacing both as a primary form of communication and conducting business," he continued.
A request was made to seek federal assistance to rural areas where broadband has been overlooked or unaffordable for counties that don't have competitively priced providers one finds in more populated areas.
"Some areas are so competitive providers are practically giving away internet service," said Robison. "That's not the case here." He and Stutzman sought reduced rates for the town of Oakland through the Greater Oakland Business Association's Economic Initiatives Committee. "We found that companies just aren't willing to negotiate in sparsely populated regions where there is no competition."
Trone agreed "1000 percent" with the Adventure Capital concept of drawing technology business to Garrett County by leveraging the quality of life and outdoor appeal with a younger generation.
He was shown the latest numbers from a study that looked at the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) broken down by counties nationwide. The study found that Montgomery County, Maryland which is just outside Washington, D.C. produced 25 percent of Maryland's GDP compared with Garrett County that represents just .03 percent of the state's GDP.
Stutzman pointed out that diversifying the wealth in the state by locating some business in more rural areas like Garrett County, Montgomery and other wealthy, yet congested counties could greatly reduce federal and state dependencies typically required for rural areas to survive.
"This new study really underscores the disparity in Maryland," Stutzman said. "Businesses can be virtually connected to anywhere in the world while enjoying the spoils of a vacation destination like we have here."
Robison also pointed out that Garrett County is just a short drive to Maryland's wealthiest county and many of those residents escape the city chaos to enjoy the mountains and four-season recreation. "What would an employee say if their business offered them the same job for similar pay, only in Garrett County," Robison asks?
Another request asked of Trone was that he review the HUBZone (Historically Underutilized Business Zones) program to make it more effective. The HUBZone was designed to incentivize government contracting businesses to locate in underserved or economically depressed areas. Designated areas are not just in rural locations since many urban areas experience similar challenges.
With some additional guidelines and oversight, the program could be more effective in making sure the HUBZones actually bring jobs where they are most needed, according to Robison.
"Not all the jobs created by a HUBZone contract are located in the designated area," he said. "Sometimes the company is located within the designated area but the work is subcontracted out which defeats the purpose of what the HUBZone is intending to address."
EMM recently started working with the HUBZone Contractors National Council which opened their headquarters in Mountain Lake Park. The Council has been generous with information to help structure Adventure Capital in a targeted way to reach potential businesses. They act as an advocacy group for government contractors, provide services, and education to facilitate their success.
Trone kicked off his campaign for Congress at The New Cornish Café in Oakland to ask area residents what they hoped he could do if elected. One of those requests was making sure that the counties furthest west were not forgotten once he took office. He made good on that request with his return and an eagerness to listen and help.
As for Trone's first months in office, one of his high priorities is to put in bipartisan legislation to address the opioid epidemic. He's working with other freshman representatives to find common ground that will help deal with a growing problem that touches so many Americans. More details on his bill are pending.