Taylor exhorts 2 western counties to create 2,000 new jobs next year

Allegany, Garrett urged to explore biotechnology, timber

Development

May 21, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

FROSTBURG -- House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. exhorted Maryland's two westernmost counties yesterday to create 2,000 jobs next year by adopting an economic development strategy embracing industries as modern as biotechnology and as old as cutting trees.

The speaker's challenge came as work groups of the Western Maryland Economic Development Task Force gathered to present their goals for reviving the distressed economies of Garrett and Allegany counties.

Their proposed initiatives included a high-capacity connection to the Internet and increased access to public lands for coal mining.

The task force also heard a pitch from Montgomery County businessman William Rickman for his proposed racetrack near Cumberland.

The Delaware Park owner told the group that if his horse racing and simulcast plans are approved, the operation would bring 100 full-time, year-round jobs to the county. Rickman said the track would employ another 400 during the racing season and spin off as many as 1,200 related jobs.

Taylor, a Cumberland Democrat who is Western Maryland's most powerful cheerleader, said the two initiatives that would require substantial state spending are a north-south superhighway and a high-speed telecommunications network.

Taylor said Western Maryland urgently needs state help to build a high-capacity connection to the Internet. Because of its low population density, the region has not been a high priority for private telecommunications companies.

"The sooner we get this in place, the sooner we're going to be able to market ourselves in this new economy," Taylor said.

"We've got to be attractive to the electronic commerce of the future."

Major F. Riddick Jr., Gov. Parris N. Glendening's chief of staff, assured task force members that help is on its way. He said the administration is committed to spending "tens of millions" of dollars to establish high-speed Internet "points of presence" in rural areas of the state.

Riddick said the administration expects to have the first phase of a high-capacity fiber-optic link to Allegany and Garrett -- dubbed the "Appalachian Cyberway" -- in place this summer. He estimated the cost for wiring the two counties at $25 million to $35 million but said he expects to defray much of that by charging telecommunications companies for the right to run cable along the state's rights of way.

Task force members also heard a series of potentially controversial recommendations to expand coal mining and timber operations on state lands.

One work group report criticized the state's forest management practices in Garrett and Allegany, contending that timber is being cut at a rate far short of what it could sustain.

The same group also recommended a 10-year extension of a tax credit for the state's coal mining industry and a series of incentives for industry to burn Maryland coal.

The task force also heard recommendations to expand efforts to lure health and biotechnology companies to the region to help take the place of the dwindling smokestack industry jobs.

Other task force members urged the two mountain counties to pursue opportunities in correctional facilities, which already bring an estimated income of $59 million to the high unemployment region.

In particular, the corrections work group recommended that Allegany County seek a new federal penitentiary near Cumberland, already the site of one U.S. facility.

Pub Date: 5/21/99

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