Cumberland Times-News

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June 25, 2014

City’s economic consultants unveil good, bad at study update

Promoting positive image key, says author of development plan

CUMBERLAND — Although still early in the process, consultants preparing an independent economic study of Cumberland visited the Queen City on Wednesday and disclosed many of the good and bad findings compiled so far that are shaping the economic future of the city.

Kyle Talente, vice president of RKG Associates, gave an update on the Cumberland Economic Development Strategic Plan at City Hall and stressed the importance of promoting a positive image for the community.

“Cumberland’s story is being told by others, and it’s not the right story. From an economic development standpoint, perception is reality,” said Talente at the City Hall gathering.

Preceeding an open public presentation at Allegany Museum, Talente’s presentation was a follow-up to the initial May 6 kickoff meeting for the study. Talente gave a 45-minute presentation on the status of the $54,600 study. Grants from the state and the Appalachian Regional Commission will cover all but $2,300 of the strategic plan’s cost.

Some of the goals listed for the study included:

• Creation of jobs above median income.

• Define a tangible multi-year plan that can garner support.

• To reverse negative attitudes in the community.

• Create a new image for Cumberland that can be marketed.

• To add growth that will grow the middle class.

• To create a business case for moving past “the way it is” mentality.

Although the study focused on Cumberland, it utilized data from Allegany County and five neighboring counties of Garrett, Washington and Mineral, W.Va., as well as Somerset and Bedford counties in Pennsylvania.

“You will be more successful working collaboratively, not just with the county, but with the region, than you will be on your own,” said Talente.

Attracting small to mid-size businesses should be the target, according to Talente. The assets listed for Cumberland include a good building stock, affordable housing, close proximity to large major markets, competitive wage rates and good quality education.

“We have good quality education programs here. That is important when you market to the one- to 10-person firm who says ‘Where are my kids be going to school?’”

Talente displayed a graph that showed Cumberland’s large loss of people in the 25- to 44-year-old range who are considered to be in their prime working years.

“This is the justification of why we need to do economic development. Without jobs, we will continue to lose people,” said Talente.

City Council member Dave Kauffman said the plan will take time.

“We have this passionate desire to see the results immediately, but most of the things we are talking about here will benefit our children and not be for our own benefit,” said Kauffman.

The challenges were listed for Cumberland included a lack of depth in the workforce, few economic development sites in the city, a lack of “last mile” high speed broadband and non-competitive tax rates.

“Maryland is not as competitive as some of its neighbors from an economic development perspective,” said Talente.

Talente said the only thing he saw that tourism in the area needs is a centralized strategy.

“The only thing holding us back is having a singular tourism marketing entity instead of a confederation of everyone doing their own thing,” he said.

While agreeing Cumberland lacked a good quality north-south corridor, Talente took issue with Cumberland being too remote. He said the spread of jobs west from Frederick into Hagerstown can be continued in the direction of Cumberland.

“I’ve heard we are 60 miles away from progress. I disagree. There are opportunities on how to continue to drive (commerce) this way. My job is to find out what that is,” he said.

RKG Associates is expected to hold at least two more meetings on the plan before it unveils the study in its complete form in the fall.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.

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