Planning Assistance in Action

ARCFor most Maryland residents, access to a reliable broadband network is a given; a bill we pay every month, but a readily available service when we need to connect to our work email, search for a new restaurant, or find driving directions. For some parts of Western Maryland though, this is not always so certain, as the secluded location and rugged geography make the extension of network infrastructure expensive and difficult. The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), in partnership with the Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) and the Allegany Board of Commissioners, helped overcome this barrier in Allegany County by providing the funding to strengthen the area’s broadband network and improve services to residents, businesses, and emergency services. The project also extended broadband service to every school in Allegany County; an essential step toward providing Maryland schoolchildren with the technological access and education they need to succeed in our modern economy. But this is only one of many examples of how the ARC and Planning aid the Appalachian region of Maryland.

Established by Congress in 1965, The ARC is a partnership between the federal government and the thirteen states comprising the Appalachian region. The ARC’s mission is to invest in the region and its communities to build local capacity and support economic growth and resiliency. The ARC invests in projects that address the five goals of:

  1. Economic Opportunities
  2. Ready Workforce
  3. Critical Infrastructure
  4. Natural and Cultural Assets
  5. Leadership and Community Capacity

The Appalachian region faces many challenges, including a significant loss of manufacturing and mining jobs, below average incomes, insufficient public infrastructure, poor health outcomes, isolated geography and communities, and lower educational attainments.

To combat these challenges and assist Appalachia in achieving socioeconomic parity with the rest of the nation, the ARC serves 420 counties across 13 states with a population of 25 million people. The ARC has witnessed tremendous success. Since 1965, the regional poverty rate has been cut almost in half, the percentage of adults achieving a high school diplomas has increased by 150%, and the infant mortality rate has been reduced by two-thirds. A 2015 study commissioned by the ARC determined that over the period from 1970-2012, employment and per capita income growth rates were higher in Appalachian counties that received ARC investments than in similar non-Appalachian counties that did not.

Allegany, Garrett, and Washington are Maryland’s designated ARC counties. The ARC Program in Maryland is directed through the Office of the Governor and coordinated and managed by the Assistant Secretary of Planning, who serves as the Governor’s Alternate to the ARC. A Program Manager runs the Maryland ARC out of the Western Maryland Regional Office in the City of Cumberland. Of the five goals, Maryland has prioritized the three ARC goals of: 1.) Ready workforce, 2.) Critical infrastructure, and 3.) Leadership and community capacity. ARC funding in Maryland is designed to reflect local priorities, enabling communities to develop programs and access funding that meets their specific needs. It is far from a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to capacity building. Rather, Planning assists these communities formulate strategies tailored to their desires for development and growth, and helps them access ARC funding to implement these strategies.

The results are impressive. Since 2015, the ARC, in partnership with Planning, has supported 20 projects advancing the three state goals. Investments in a Ready Workforce have reached almost $700,000; $1.4 million has gone toward improving Maryland’s Critical Infrastructure, and investments in the next generation of Appalachian Maryland’s leadership are approaching $400,000. These projects include funding for industrial parks, rail, air and highway transportation, water and sewerage infrastructure, housing, telecommunications, health care, labor skill development, K-12 and college level educational projects, local access roads, entrepreneurial initiatives, and more. Another example of the ARC funding broadband infrastructure in Maryland is in Garrett County.

Planning isn’t solely about zoning ordinances and land use maps. The Department’s partnership with the ARC demonstrates our dedication to a holistic approach for strengthening the State of Maryland and building local capacity for positive change. To learn more about the ARC program in Maryland, please contact Bill Atkinson at bill.atkinson@maryland.gov or at 301-697-8506.