Cumberland Times-News

November 28, 2013

Rural economy offers benefits for entire state

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — An economic expert told members of a rural lobbying organization that the region offers many positive economic benefits to the state of Maryland. His presentation led Allegany County Commissioner Michael McKay, also chairman of the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition, to say that the region is treated unfairly by the state and that state policies interfere with the region’s economic progress.

“Urban Maryland has imposed its views on rural Maryland. There is little debate in the marketplace of ideas,” McKay said.

Rural Maryland has much to offer which urban areas cannot, according to the presentation by Anirban Basu of the Sage Policy Group, Inc. Rural areas offer open space, agricultural products, abundant natural resources, raw materials and tourism based on refuge from urban life.

In summing up, Basu said that the state’s “taxation regime ... negatively impacts rural communities, who have benefitted for decades from the retirement of affluent households to their communities,” Basu said. There is another impact of state tax policies as well, Basu said.

“It is also the rural areas that most frequently compete with (the) lower taxes and less regulated communities in other states,” Basu said.

“Without farmers there is no food, but in Maryland, the state government looks at farmers as polluters,” McKay said. State policy unfairly penalizes agriculture in rural communities, McKay said. The solution was to better communicate the rural way of life to state officials, elect pro-business candidates and support safe drilling for gas inā€ˆmarcellus Shale, among other ideas, McKay said.

According to Basu’s report, Allegany County has one of the strongest manufacturing employment bases in the state, with more than 10 percent of employees involved in manufacturing. Dorchester County has more than 20 percent of employees involved in manufacturing. Urban counties generally have a much smaller proportion of employees in manufacturing, for instance, Basu said Montgomery County has less than five percent of its employees involved in manufacturing.

Rural counties, though, tend to have higher unemployment than urban counties, with Allegany, Dorchester and Somerset counties all over eight percent unemployment. Only Baltimore City falls into that high unemployment area among urban areas in the state. The unemployment rate in Baltimore City was 10.3 percent in August.

McKay said the higher average unemployment rate in rural Maryland counties compared to most of the state’s urban areas is also caused by state policies.

Many state regulations to protect the Chesapeake Bay hit rural areas hardest, Basu said. That’s because septic limitiations will cut into what development is possible and strain resources by requiring local expenditures to assure water quality.

McKay discussed the presentation at the most recent Allegany County Commission meeting on Nov. 21 in Barton. Basu’s presentation took place at a coalition economic summit Nov. 15 in Annapolis. About 100 people attended the event, McKay said.

McKay was also recently re-elected chairman of the rural coalition for 2014.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.