Board of Garrett County Commissioners Chairman Paul Edwards provided an economic development overview during the commissioners’ county update report Monday afternoon.
Nearly 50 local residents attended the standing-room-only event at the courthouse.
“Economic development seems to be in the forefront of everybody’s mind here,” Edwards said.
He reported that much of what the county is doing in this category pertains to infrastructure. The commissioner provided a list of current and upcoming “big” projects, including those at the Keyser’s Ridge Business Park. Edwards indicated progress at the site has been stalled for at least a decade.
“I will say we’ve had a lot of interest in Keyser’s Ridge Business Park,” he said. “A big part of the reason why we haven’t been able to move it forward is the lack of infrastructure.”
He said a company might want to build there, but there’s no water or sewer yet.
“So what we’ve been doing for the last several years is working with our federal and state partners to be able to get that infrastructure in place,” Edwards. “The water storage tank is out for bid right now.”
He said the commissioners hope to have the park completely serviced with water by the end of this year. A wastewater treatment plant is also expected to be completed in 2020.
Edwards also reported that a tenant is set to occupy a portion of the McHenry Business Park shell building. Construction of the Maryland Economic Development Corp. structure is expected to be completed by mid-March.
“That will be a big addition, and it will help our local cheese-making company grow,” the commissioner said.
Other infrastructure initiatives in the works include the Springs Road water/sewer project in Grantsville, the U.S. 219 North project and expansion of the Garrett County Airport.
“Economic development cannot happen without infrastructure, and infrastructure occurs in a lot of ways,” Edwards said.
Future construction projects include a workforce housing initiative in Grantsville, the Garrett County Emergency Operations Center and the Community Performing Arts Center at Garrett College.
Edwards also reported a virtual job shadow initiative was recently launched among the Garrett County Department of Economic Development, Chamber of Commerce and Board of Education.
“What that does, in a nutshell, is help expose kids in the high schools to careers that may not exist right here,” the commissioner said. “They can see what it’s like, and they can follow people virtually in what they do during a day.”
He reported the county issued 65 licenses to new businesses in 2018, compared to 80 in 2019.
“We’re certainly excited about that,” Edwards said.
The county’s unemployment rate for October was 3.7 percent, compared to the state rate of 3.2 percent and national rate of 3.3 percent. The county also had 3.7 percent unemployment in October 2018, compared to the state’s 3.6 and the nation’s 3.5.
“So we’re doing pretty well there,” the commissioner said.
Edwards indicated the commissioners hope that with completion of the infrastructure projects, expansion of current businesses and new business growth that not only will unemployment remain low, but wages and benefits will increase as well.