Plan is needed to lift Western Maryland Recovery: Kelly-Springfield closing opens new chapter in isolated region's economic development.

October 31, 1998

THE departure of Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. from Cumberland ends 77 years of history, and a decade of nervous breath-holding.

The firm's headquarters and warehouse will move to Ohio next year. In 1987, Kelly closed the tire factory that had been an economic pillar of Allegany County since 1921.

Western Maryland is mired in two decades of high unemployment and a poverty rate equal to Baltimore City's. A well-funded, realistically conceived recovery plan is essential to fundamentally transform Maryland's Appalachia.

A task force of state and federal officials is looking at ways to create new jobs there. Traditional industrial factories, such as Kelly and Bausch & Lomb (which closed in 1997, erasing 600 jobs), are unlikely to pick Western Maryland. The new economy favors distribution and service firms, with lower wages and smaller employment levels.

With mountains, woods and waters, Western Maryland has a major opportunity in tourism. The $56 million Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort opened late this year to strong demand. The state wants to buy Deep Creek Lake from the private owner. Better promotion of the area is important, but so is better transportation.

Interstate 68 finally connects the isolated panhandle with the rest of the world but another vital link is missing: a north-south interstate segment that would connect major highways from Tennessee to Canada. A major upgrade of U.S. 220, combined with significant projects in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, would complete this "international trade corridor."

That would benefit both tourism and business development, allowing aggressive marketing of its appealing natural attractions.

Job-based tax incentives, such as those proposed by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor of Cumberland, would also help. They include state payroll and corporate income tax credits for capital expenses and job creation. Long-term state loans could finance industrial parks and other infrastructure projects to lure more employers to the distressed area.

Western Maryland's emergence from traditional reliance on big factories and extractive industries will greatly depend implementing such ambitious measures.

Pub Date: 10/31/98

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