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Old 08-18-2011, 07:55 PM
 
Location: Seattle, WA
389 posts, read 718,615 times
Reputation: 203

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Before I start, I would like to state that this post is in reference to Allegany and Garrett County, Maryland, and they are to be the focus of this thread.

Maryland is a state that has seen growth in abundance over the past several decades. Washington, DC has become the economic powerhouse of the country, despite some of the worst times we've seen since the Great Depression. The area is booming upward and outward like never before and people are coming to Maryland by the 100,000. Montgomery, Prince George's, and Baltimore Counties, which have been suburban in some form or another for quite some time, are continuing to grow exponentially. What's really astonishing is that places like Washington, Frederick, St. Mary's, Queen Anne's, and Cecil Counties, which have long been rural, are quickly becoming exurbs of Baltimore and DC with growing commuter populations and businesses opening doors in their communities. Some of the aforementioned counties actually grew by as much as 15 to 25% in the last ten years. Ocean City, everybody's favorite resort town, continues to flourish, and rural pioneers are settling in all the quaint spots along the way. Easton, Cambridge, St. Michaels, and the like, are experiencing impressive, steady growth that would have been unheard of not too long ago on the Lower Eastern Shore. It seems Maryland's biggest problem is how to manage all this growth--a problem that many places could only dream of.

This is not the case in Maryland's two westernmost counties. Way up in the state's Allegheny Highlands, Garrett and Allegany County sit just west of expansive growth that they simply aren't seeing. Just before the end of the industrial era, Allegany County was an economic engine for the state. Industry was booming and Cumberland, Maryland's Queen City (second largest population, behind Baltimore) was where the jobs were. Beginning in the 1950's and 60's, it became evident all across America that the industrial age was ending. With this, the Cumberland area experienced the loss of the vast majority of its factories and, with them, about 20 percent of Allegany County's population. At Cumberland's height, it had double the city population it does now. Today, Allegany County is largely wooded with charming, little post-industrial towns. In contrast to other parts of the rust belt, its population has been relatively stable since the 1990's. It sits stagnant, continually losing jobs. The only people coming to Allegany County these days are prisoners, students, and tourists.

Garrett County was never heavily industrial and has always been composed of tall mountains, thick forests, small family farms, and some of the most breathtaking rural beauty in the state. The state's premier ski resort, largest lake, tallest waterfall, biggest cave, and countless state parks are located there. Picturesque main street communities dot the mountain wilderness in what was once advertised by the B&O Railroad as the "Switzerland of America." With the development of Deep Creek Lake, Garrett County has seen growth of the "four-season resort" variety (i.e. vacation homes, touristy shops and restaurants). For year-round residents, however, good jobs are often the sacrifice it takes to stay in God's Country.

Even in comparison to similar areas across Northern Appalachia, Mountain Maryland pales in comparison on the economic front. Altoona, a central Pennsylvania town 95 miles east of Pittsburgh, is often compared to Cumberland. They are quite alike in regard to their geographic setting, size, and history. An old railroad town, Altoona has an MSA population slightly larger than Cumberland's, albeit still dropping year after year, unlike that of Cumberland. Despite their vast similarities, Altoona has a two-story shopping mall, lots of big box retail, some small strip malls, and most basic restaurant chains, all departments in which Cumberland is severely lacking. Clarksburg, West Virginia, is an old industry town and the seat of a growing micropolitan area with a population just below that of the Cumberland metro. It is the home of the FBI's criminal justice division complex and is just south of a blossoming technology park that is truly awe-inspiring to discover while driving through the heart of West Virginia. Their offerings in the retail sector surpass Cumberland's as well.

My question is this: What is hindering Cumberland and the Mountain region of Maryland from reaching their 21st century potential and what can we do to bring success and growth to this long-depressed area?

Where are our flourishing tech/business parks that are bringing professionals into areas like ours? Why haven't our retail and dining sectors grown in time to match those of similar areas? Where is our urban renewal project or suburban housing development?

In short, why aren't Allegany and Garrett County growing and what can we do to stimulate growth there?
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Old 08-18-2011, 08:32 PM
 
Location: North Beach, MD on the Chesapeake
36,583 posts, read 47,256,871 times
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Altoona has a couple things going for it:
1) it's more accessible than Cumberland
2) it's located fairly close to a major college (and has a branch campus of it, Penn State)
3) it was represented until fairly recently by a couple Kings of Pork, Bud Shuster and John Murtha. Technically Shuster was the Rep. but Murtha took care of Altoona along with Johnstown.
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Old 08-18-2011, 10:24 PM
 
Location: Seattle, WA
389 posts, read 718,615 times
Reputation: 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by North Beach Person View Post
Altoona has a couple things going for it:
1) it's more accessible than Cumberland
2) it's located fairly close to a major college (and has a branch campus of it, Penn State)
3) it was represented until fairly recently by a couple Kings of Pork, Bud Shuster and John Murtha. Technically Shuster was the Rep. but Murtha took care of Altoona along with Johnstown.
How exactly is Altoona more accessible than Cumberland? Interstate 99, the only interstate that goes through Altoona, wasn't completed until fairly recently. Cumberland has Interstate 68. Maybe I'm not interpreting what you're saying correctly. Altoona is about an hour from Penn State. Cumberland is about an hour and a half from WVU. I really don't see what difference it makes. Penn State Altoona has a student population consisting of 4,182 undergrads with no graduate programs. Frostburg State (10 minutes from Cumberland) has 5,215 undergrads and 918 graduate students. The only one I will give you is the pork barreling. I-99 was a huge pork project that Shuster brought to his district. The people in Philly joked that the deer could finally migrate safely from Bedford to State College when it was completed. Altoona and Cumberland are so alike in so many ways, that it's mind boggling to me that we have to go there for decent shopping and dining options.
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Old 08-19-2011, 05:34 AM
 
Location: North Beach, MD on the Chesapeake
36,583 posts, read 47,256,871 times
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I've been to both Altoona and Cumberland from all points of the compass. Altoona's easier to get to. I don't feel like looking it up but I'm willing to bet that the overall population around Altoona is higher. Add to that what I mentioned about access, it's not unusual for people a couple hours from Altoona to the NW to go there on a day trip (haven't figured that one out yet).

That hour from Penn State compared to 1 1/2 from WVU is important. I was up in Brookville, actually, a couple years ago and one of the TV stations (I don't remember whether it was WJAC out of Johnstown or WTAJ out of Altoona) was making a big deal out of the numbers of PSU Main Campus employees that lived in/near Altoona that commuted to Main. Cumberland likely can't say that about WVU because that extra half hour would make a difference.

Also don't forget shopping, MD sales tax covers more items than PA's, especially clothes. MD property taxes are also way higher than WVA and, at least by anecdote, higher than PA.

The kids I know that attend, or have attended Frostburg, aren't going to go into Cumberland. They're afraid that the original boys in the hood will get them. Nothing I say changes their minds, either.

I hadn't heard the deer story. That's funny. It's a shame 99 wasn't built when there were businesses there that needed that road. Maybe some of them would have stayed.

Last edited by North Beach Person; 08-19-2011 at 05:51 AM..
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Old 08-19-2011, 08:25 AM
 
Location: Cumberland
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Altoona is the center of gravity for a very large populated agricultural area. That is the reason so many commercial businesses are there. Cumberland serves as the center of an area with a similar geographic footprint, but that footprint contains alot less people. South of Keyser, WV gets very very rural, and even then Winchester is siphoning off possible shoppers onto Rt. 50. And once you get west of Grantsville in Garrett County, alot of people choose to go to Morgantown instead for their "city" needs. I don't think Altoona gets too much competition from Johnstown in the commercial sphere or medical sphere like Cumberland gets from Morgantown and Winchester.

Really, the problems concerning growth in Western Maryland can be boiled down to two things

1. The suburban growth that you see is divereted north and south once you hit Hagerstown. It is simply geography. It is flatter and easier to develop the farm country of the Great Valley than it is to breach over the ridges into Western Maryland.


2.Maryland government isn't designed to help out rust belt towns. The state is run by people concerned mostly with the suburbs. When they see our communities, they only see the mountains and trees. They take a a deep breath, think how great it is to have a scenic playground just 2 hours from where they live, and focus on "preserving it" while focusing the economic growth down towards DC. I sometimes get the distinct feeling that the politicians forget that there are about 100,000 people out here too that would like to work for a living.

To illustrate my point, the part of Western Maryland most conducive to growth is Eastern Allegany County. You can live there and commute to Hagerstown or even Frederick. The problem is that the state owns nearly all of Eastern Allegany County (Green Ridge State Forest) and is hell-bent on restricting development in the rest, using the weight of bureaucracy to delay and deny the necessary permits for water and sewer.

So functionally, you have about 50 miles of forest between Cumberland the Great Valley that the state doesn't want to see developed. It looks pretty, but is functionally a 50 mile economic desert between Western Maryland and the prosperity of the rest of the state.

Lastly, it doesn't help that the state sees our communities as a dumping ground for their ne'er do wells. We have the prisons, the Pell grant colleges, and the state is more than happy to fund new low income housing in Cumberland. We have several projects going in right now. Of course, Cumberland already has a bounty of cheap housing. If the state had the same committment to being more business friendly, and make the state competetive with WV and PA, we would be better off. It is always sad to see the big warehouses and significant, medium sized industrial businesses located 10 miles north or south of us.
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Old 08-19-2011, 10:01 AM
 
3,211 posts, read 8,508,700 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drs72 View Post
How exactly is Altoona more accessible than Cumberland? Interstate 99, the only interstate that goes through Altoona, wasn't completed until fairly recently.
The huge shopping plazas next to 99 were also completed fairly recently. It's safe to say that without 99, those shopping plazas wouldn't exist. Altoona alone doesn't have the population to support them, but there are enough suburbs, small towns, and rural areas that have access to 99 that it adds up. Altoona also has access to US 22, which is a full expressway to the west and brings in customers from I'm guessing as far away as Ebensburg.

As westsideboy stated, Altoona is a "center of gravity" that draws from the surrounding rural areas. Pennsylvania has the one of the largest rural populations in the country, much larger than Western MD, and a lot of them live in the combined Johnstown/Altoona/State College market area. Cumberland isn't part of a region like that. While Cumberland and Altoona themselves may be similar (and downtown Altoona was struggling even worse than Cumberland the last time I was there), the areas around them are not.
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Old 08-19-2011, 12:17 PM
 
Location: North Beach, MD on the Chesapeake
36,583 posts, read 47,256,871 times
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Further than Ebensburg. My aunt and uncle from Tionesta used to travel to Altoona several times a year to shop. This was in the 1960's and 70's when it was almost a "you can't get there from here" situation. Of course, they were known to go 75 miles to save a nickel on a loaf of bread. Taking, or going with them, grocery shopping was an adventure in itself.

When I was in college at Clarion in the early/mid 70's St. Francis of Lorretto got better concerts than Clarion so a bunch of us would go there fairly often for them.
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Old 08-19-2011, 01:44 PM
 
3,211 posts, read 8,508,700 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by North Beach Person View Post
Further than Ebensburg. My aunt and uncle from Tionesta used to travel to Altoona several times a year to shop. This was in the 1960's and 70's when it was almost a "you can't get there from here" situation.
Good point. I was using Ebensburg as a bound just because it's such an easy trip on 22 and anything further south and west would have competition from Johnstown (not sure how the retail picture looks there) and eventually the Pittsburgh suburbs.

The areas north and west of Altoona are pretty sparse as far as retail goes, so I'd guess that Altoona draws quite a bit of business from there even though there are no expressways up that way. As you get closer to I-80, it becomes an easier trip to State College, but there's still a lot of people who are closer to Altoona.

Tionesta seems a bit extreme though! That's a long way on back roads through a bunch of little towns. It was probably even worse in the 60's and 70's. Seems like most people in that region would be heading up towards Erie for major shopping trips.
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Old 08-20-2011, 02:28 PM
 
Location: Seattle, WA
389 posts, read 718,615 times
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So rather than pointing out the differences between Cumberland and Altoona, does anyone have any ideas of what we could do to see some growth out in Allegany or Garrett County?

EDIT: Recent news articles from all over the rust belt are reporting that Ohio-based New Page Corp. is having some debt issues and is considering bankruptcy. Their Luke paper mill employs 907 people from across our area (as of April). It's one of the last major factories in the Cumberland area and, without it, I'm afraid the old saying, "Will the last one out of Cumberland please turn out the lights?" would become all too real. On a personal level, my dad works at the mill and it is the source of at least 80% of my family's income. While our mill may be relatively safe compared to some of the companies other factories, should they be forced to close any of them, it still looms as something that would completely devastate the area. Our reliance on industry is what has dragged us down this far, what other options are out there that would be viable for Allegany and Garrett County?
http://times-news.com/local/x8337119...der-bankruptcy

Last edited by drs72; 08-20-2011 at 03:00 PM..
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Old 08-21-2011, 12:25 PM
 
Location: Hagerstown
459 posts, read 1,139,455 times
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I don't have much to add to this, but if I was a town council member or mayor, I would be on the phone with places like Asheville, NC, CHattanooga, TN, Roanoke, VA, and others with similar geography/location as Cumberland that have had success turning around or maintaining vibrant communities.

I really wish the elected leaders in Hagerstown would pick the brains of the folks in Frederick to find out how to improve our downtown area.
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