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Bank Leaders Visit Growth Corridor in Rural Maryland

The Richmond Fed meets the leaders in Cecil County.

A recent Community Conversations visit to Cecil County, Maryland, allowed Richmond Fed leaders to learn about a region that is evolving while aiming to preserve its rural character.

“There’s a lot of development and growth taking place in Cecil County,” said Andy Bauer, the Richmond Fed’s Regional Executive for Maryland, the District of Columbia and West Virginia, who accompanied Bank President Tom Barkin during a recent two-day visit to the region. “Decisions were made about five to 10 years ago to be more open to growth, and leaders began putting the infrastructure in place. We heard from many  that there was a change in mindset. People came into positions of leadership in the county and made the decision that, ‘We’re going to grow, and if you build it, they will come.’”

Located in the most northeastern corner of Maryland, Cecil County touches Delaware and Pennsylvania and sits at the head of the Chesapeake Bay. It is uniquely positioned, with footprint on the eastern shore as well as being near the Baltimore metro area on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay, giving the county the potential to maximize relationships and opportunities in both areas, Bauer noted.

A key factor driving growth is that Interstate 95 runs right through the county and is parallel to Route 40, providing an avenue for development that county leaders have capitalized upon. They have designated this area the county’s growth corridor and have approved numerous projects for the area, including residential housing developments and a natural gas line along Route 40.

“Often when we go to places, there are constraints – frequently it’s land availability or infrastructure – that make growing more difficult,” Bauer said. “But in Cecil County, they have been able to expand utilities in many parts of the county, and they are attracting large national developers. The amount of growth that will take place in the coming years is going to be remarkable.”

“The county decided to sell its water and sewage rights to a private company, and they’ve worked closely with the company to expand capacity,” he said. “County leaders also realized the need to increase sewage capacity at a plant they maintain. Expanding capacity in Elkton, the county seat with roughly 15,000 residents, helped attract a large development project near town, which will bring recreation facilities, retail and residential housing. Part of what made the city attractive to the developer was the fact that the town had excess sewage capacity.”

A major component of their development strategy has been to concentrate most of the new development in the growth corridor. This allows for the rest of the county to maintain its rural character.

“This has made people more receptive and confident that the growth will not negatively impact their small towns,” Bauer said.

Bauer and Barkin’s visit included a meeting with the mayor and town administrator of Rising Sun, a small town with a population of 2,800. The local officials described their efforts to embrace the inevitable growth while keeping the town’s rural character.

Barkin and Bauer also participated in a Community Development roundtable at the Maryland Rural Development Corporation (MRDC) to learn about efforts to help low- and moderate-income communities in Cecil and surrounding counties. The discussion touched on a wide number of subjects; however, the impact of two years of the pandemic on young children and the resulting mental health issues that childcare and preschool providers are seeing left a lasting impression.

“We were discussing 3–5-year-old children,” Bauer said. “These young children missed two years of socialization, and many are in households with a higher propensity of issues, such as domestic violence or substance abuse. It was a tough, but insightful conversation.”

To help these families and, in some ways keep an eye on the children, MRDC served 160,000 lunches to the families who access their network of nonprofit organizations. Another participant at the roundtable was Youth Employment Source (YES), a local nonprofit agency dedicated to providing critical supports to children, youth and families in Cecil County With a strong focus on prevention, education and mental health.

“The work of community stakeholders, such as MRDC and YES, are excellent models of an asset-based community development approach,” said Peter Dolkart, Richmond Fed community development regional manager for Maryland. “This strategy builds on the resources and talents that are already found in the community, often unrecognized assets, and mobilizes individuals, associations and institutions to come together to achieve positive outcomes.”

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Jim Strader (804) 697-8956 (804) 332-0207 (mobile)