The time was that America got along just fine, on its own — relying on its own home grown talent and resources. We didn’t have to depend on anybody else, but could do it all ourselves.
That’s the way we like to remember it. The reality was far different. America has always needed the outside world.
Remember the Boston Tea Party? Colonists dumped more than 300 chests of British tea into the harbor at Boston to protest a tax the British levied on that tea. They couldn’t grow their own tea and had to import it, as they did clothing, books, firearms and many other items that couldn’t be produced here.
Exporting manufactured and agricultural goods has always produced revenue for everyone in America’s economic food chain. New Englanders thrived on trade with Great Britain and wanted no part of the War of 1812. Native American tribes understood that trading with each other was more beneficial than fighting wars.
Much of America’s current labor force, skilled and unskilled, is descended from immigrants who came here to find work and better lives. None of this has changed. We still rely on trade, and immigrants still form a productive part of our society.
Likewise, some of us remember Allegany County as a virtually independent economic island with major industries that employed tens of thousands of people and a successful business community.
However, like America itself, Allegany County depended on trade and other associations with the outside world. Each of the major industries was part of a regional or national conglomerate.
Ours was an economic powerhouse, but it grew weaker while economies elsewhere grew stronger.
For a long time, many hoped (and some still do) for a miracle in the form of a major industry locating here. But it didn’t happen, and it won’t, for a variety of reasons — including the fact that other areas have larger and more accessible places to put such operations.
The solution now being explored by our business, academic and government circles is what baseball fans call “small ball” — scoring runs by putting runners on base and then moving them around the bases, rather than by hitting home runs.
Our economic “small ball” involves attracting a number of small businesses and industries that employ skilled people at good salaries. This has worked in other areas that are little different from ours, so it can happen here. If one of them does fail, the effect on the community won’t be nearly as calamitous as the shutdown of a major employer like the Kelly-Springfield Tire Company plant proved to be.
Ronald Nowaczyk began putting this “small ball” approach into practice when he became Frostburg State University’s president, and Al Delia has joined the school as its vice president for regional development and engagement. Our editorial board recently met with them. Delia is described as “the primary contact point for companies, nonprofit organizations and governments in the region to access FSU’s intellectual capital and other resources to address regional opportunities.”
These partnerships can “help make the Western Maryland Tri-State Region a premier destination in which to live, learn, work and play,” and he has been meeting with business, community and government leaders, seeking to forge them.
One of FSU’s goals is development of curricula that will enable graduates to quickly find good jobs in computer tech, biology, health sciences and similar fields. Businesses that want to recruit such people might locate or expand here if a reliable source of employees is available here, and major population and economic centers aren’t far away.
Knowing they could get a degree that would allow them to find a good job without having to go far from home would give students from the region an incentive to attend FSU.
FSU has been working with state, county and municipal governments, the Appalachian Regional Commission, nonprofit organizations and other colleges to make this a regional effort — not one that’s limited to Allegany County or Western Maryland.
“All of us here — on campus and beyond — are better off when our region works together to prosper,” said Delia. “When one part of our region succeeds, we all benefit. Working together in Western Maryland, and even across state lines, we can more easily compete and win against tough global competition,” he said.
Our region fell into economic decline because its individual components — the communities, counties, industries, businesses and governments — lost their competitive edge.
Wishing, hoping and positive attitudes won’t change that. Combining our determination and physical and intellectual resources with good leadership will help us regain what we lost and keep on growing.
This won’t happen overnight, but we’re putting the pieces into place. We’ve learned that we’re stronger when we work together.