A Natural Partnership: The Maryland Department of Planning and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC)

Planning Assistance in Action

Did you know that the Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) plays an important role in supporting the economies, environment, and vitality of the Appalachian Region? In addition to their departmental duties, Planning staff in the department’s Western Maryland office have also functioned as the Maryland State Program Managers of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for decades. In late 2019, David Cotton, Planning’s Director of the Western Maryland Regional Office, located in the city of Cumberland, was appointed as Maryland’s newest ARC  Program Manager (see the Meet the Planning Staff article, also in this edition of Planning Practice Monthly).

Screenshot of Appalachian Subregions Map taken from ARC website.

In addition to a reputation for some of America’s most picturesque landscapes, the Appalachian region  faces a number of socio-economic challenges both recent and deeply rooted in its history. It suffers from below average incomes, insufficient public infrastructure, poor health outcomes, and lower educational attainments in part due to the geographic isolation of many in its communities. More recently, the region has been in the spotlight as a result of a significant loss of manufacturing and mining jobs.

An Appalachian mountain sunset (stock photo).

The ARC was established by Congress in 1965 as a partnership between the federal government and the thirteen states that make up the Appalachian region. The ARC’s mission is toinnovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia.” To combat the challenges still facing the region, and to assist residents in achieving greater socioeconomic parity with the rest of the nation, the ARC invests in projects that address five goals outlined in its strategic plan, including:

  • Economic Opportunities
  • Ready Workforce
  • Critical Infrastructure
  • Natural and Cultural Assets
  • Leadership and Community Capacity

Serving 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 earning high school diplomas has increased by 150%, and the infant mortality rate has been reduced by two-thirds. 

In Maryland, three counties lie within ARC’s purview: Allegany, Garrett, and Washington. The ARC Program in Maryland is directed through the Office of the Governor and coordinated and managed by the Special Secretary of Smart Growth, Wendi Peters, who serves as the Governor’s Alternate to the ARC. As Program Manager, David Cotton runs the ARC’s Maryland projects and programs out of the Cumberland office.  

To learn more about the ARC program in Maryland, please contact David Cotton at david.cotton@maryland.gov or at (301) 777-2161.

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