Chamber, Businesses, College to Welcome Students

Last Updated on Sep 7, 2018 at 9:40am | Education

Article courtesy of NCWV Media - The Republican. Staff Reporter: Joseph Hauger.
The Garrett County Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Development Task Force is partnering with Garrett College to host a welcome reception for incoming out-of-county students who will be attending Garrett College this fall.
Assisted by local businesses, the Chamber will throw out the welcome mat and introduce the students to Garrett County with lunch at Ace’s Run restaurant, ice cream provided by Lakeside Creamery, boat tours of the lake courtesy of Silver Tree Marine and complimentary turns on Splash Island. The reception will be held from noon to 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7.
“We are excited to provide this opportunity to new students of Garrett College and new residents of Garrett County,” said Laura Fike, Workforce Development Task Force chair and chamber board member. “We can showcase some the fun activities in Garrett County and make these new students, who are away from home for the first time, feel welcome.”
Out-of-county students make up approximately a third of the population at Garrett College. Each year, nearly 200 new students descend on Garrett County and many are moving to the community for the first time.
“I appreciate the Chamber’s interest in making our out-of-county students feel welcome in Garrett County,” said Dr. Richard Midcap, Garrett College’s president. “There is extensive data indicating new students need to feel supported and welcome as they settle into a new environment. The college appreciates the Chamber’s commitment to helping out-of-county students get off to a great start.”
The Chamber sees other benefits to making the students feel welcome. They believe that people are overlooking the fact that these students are prospective future employees and residents.
“These students are starting out as temporary residents but what if we could convert them to full-time residents that are filling jobs here,” said Nicole Christian, Chamber president & CEO. “Here is a captive audience that has chosen to move to Garrett County for a short time. Maybe they decide to stay through the summer and work. Then they decide to live here after they graduate. Let’s convince them Garrett County is where they want to make their life.”
The purpose of the welcome reception is to make the students feel comfortable in their new community and expose them to some wonderful activities that Garrett County has to offer.
“Most of these students are not aware of all of the local attractions and activities available to them. By working with some fantastic local businesses, the Chamber is helping to reveal that there is more to Garrett County than the one-mile radius around the college campus,” Christian said. “And we are saying, ‘We’re glad you chose Garrett County.’”
College officials hosted a meeting for the college’s McHenry neighbors on Aug. 22. The meeting provided an update on residential housing, including newly implemented academic requirements for living on campus. College officials also briefed neighbors on improvements to the residence halls, including new painting and carpeting in Garrett Hall, new painting and couches in Laker Hall, and an improved internet infrastructure for both residence halls. Information about expanded academic supports, including an advisor-in-residence program, were also shared with neighbors.
A second phase of the welcome for out-of-county students will include familiarization tours of the county. These are tentatively scheduled for Sept. 14, 21 and 28.
The Workforce Development Task Force has been functioning for the last year to identify the workforce challenges plaguing businesses and has adopted a holistic approach to address the difficulties of strengthening and expanding the local labor pool. They are focusing on four focus areas: education/training, affordable housing, transportation and child care.
The declining and aging population in the county is having the greatest impact on the local workforce as it is reducing the number of prospective employees. Unfortunately, this is a growing trend among rural communities, and no single panacea has been developed to combat the issue. However, the Chamber is hopeful that implementing new initiatives like the Welcome Reception to attract new full-time residents will help address the problem.
The Chamber has also implemented the Work Ethic Diploma in partnership with Garrett County Public Schools to emphasize the value of a strong work ethic in young people. The Work Ethic Diploma launched last spring and already has 32 business partners. Southern and Northern high schools’ classes of 2019 will be the first to graduate with Work Ethic Diplomas. More information can be found on the Chamber’s website at, or by contacting Holly Lane at or 301-387-6171.
The Workforce Development Task Force has also been engaged in discussions on affordable housing and specifically long-term, market-rate rentals. They are researching programs being implemented in other communities and hope to share some recommendations soon.
The task force is comprised of local businesses, representatives from Garrett College, Garrett County Public Schools, Economic Development, Garrett County government and other partnering agencies.
“It is important that we have a strong business contingent on the task force as the businesses have the most to lose if we cannot solve this problem,” Fike said. “So far it has been a great partnership, with the schools, government and agencies listening to what businesses need, and businesses taking the lead on developing solutions that can really have a positive impact.”
The task force has been researching ideas and models being used by other communities as well as evaluating local untapped opportunities. They have divided the initiatives for each of the four focus areas into immediate, short term (one-to-three years) and long term (three-to-five years) to help tackle such a big issue. One example of an immediate solution was working with the local high schools to allow businesses to promote jobs, internships and apprenticeships that are available. Now businesses can contact the vice principals at Northern and Southern and help inform students of these opportunities.
While the task force has a long way to go, the newly implemented programs are steps in the right direction.
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” Christian said.
Businesses who are members of the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce and would like to join the Workforce Development Task Force should contact Holly Lane at