FLINTSTONE -- Business leaders from the "flatlands" ventured into Western Maryland yesterday to hear a message of opportunities in the mountain counties.
The Western Maryland Economic Development Task Force played host to about two dozen chief executives and other senior corporate leaders who boarded buses in Baltimore and embarked on a two-day tour of Allegany and Garrett counties.
The "executive showcase" is a reprise of a similar event staged by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer 12 years ago after the Kelly-Springfield tire plant in Cumberland closed. This year's event comes in the wake of last year's loss of Kelly's headquarters to Akron, Ohio.
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., the Cumberland Democrat who helped organize the event, welcomed participants to Rocky Gap Lodge -- a luxurious conference center and resort outside Cumberland that was built by the state as part of an effort to lure jobs to the region.
Taylor used the occasion to preach his gospel of "One Maryland," in which none of the state's counties -- especially the western ones -- are left behind.
"We've got tremendous work ethic; we've got beautiful natural resources and quality of life; and we believe we're putting together a state-of-the-art connection to the rest of the world," Taylor said.
He was referring to the Appalachian Cyberway, a high-speed fiber-optic link the state is extending to Allegany's Frostburg State University and to Garrett Community College. He said the link would ensure instant connections to the Internet.
"We will no longer be isolated," Taylor said, adding that the region is "very close" to establishing a commuter air link between Cumberland and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Historically, the two mountain counties have been burdened by some of Maryland's highest unemployment rates. This year, unemployment has declined from double digits to 6.8 percent in Allegany and 7.3 percent in Garrett, but those rates still are much higher than the statewide rate of 3.9 percent.
Lee N. Fiedler, the former Kelly-Springfield CEO who now heads the Western Maryland task force, urged the visiting executives not to focus on those figures alone. He said the work force there has a low turnover rate attributable to the quality of life in the mountain counties.
Pete Convery, manager of the new AES Warrior Run power generating plant in Allegany County, told the visitors that the region's high unemployment can be a boon to an expanding business. "We didn't experience any shortages of capable people," he said.
John Mathews, chief financial officer at Superfos Packaging in Cumberland, said companies that expand in the mountain counties can take advantage of the state's new One Maryland tax credit program for distressed jurisdictions. Allegany and Garrett are eligible for the program, created in legislation sponsored by Taylor and passed by the General Assembly this year.
Mathews said his company will take advantage of the program's incentives to create 102 jobs in a $13 million expansion of its plastic container manufacturing business.
Among the participants was Nicholas Apostol, chief executive officer of Environmental Plastics of Puerto Rico. He said his company is looking for a site in the region from North Carolina to Maryland to locate a facility to manufacture railroad ties from recycled plastic.
The plant could employ about 150 workers, he said.
Pub Date: 9/30/99