Nearly 200 Stakeholders Discuss Internet Access Equity at Regional Rural Broadband Forum

When nearly 200 business leaders, economic development professionals and state and local government officials came together to discuss bringing affordable, high-speed internet service to rural Maryland, the “why” was not up for debate. However, when it came to “how” the options were numerous and the financing was challenging to say the least.

Josh Hastings, RMC chair, addresses the attendees at the recent Regional Rural Broadband Forum. Photo credit: Harry Bosk.

Hosted by event partners the Rural Maryland Council and USDA Rural Development, the program titled the Regional Rural Broadband Forum was presented recently in Annapolis. The forum unofficially launched the work of a special task force enacted by Maryland’s General Assembly, which was signed into law on May 25.

Charlotte Davis, executive director of the Rural Maryland Council, chairs the Task Force on Rural Internet, Broadband, Wireless and Cellular Service. Over the next several months, Davis and her colleagues will research redundancies and gaps in service and funding options needed to bring digital equity to rural Maryland. By November the task force will report its findings and recommendations to Governor Hogan.

The program included six sessions providing attendees with information ranging from the different broadband technologies commonly used in rural communities to best practices used in New York’s “Broadband for All” initiative.

The day’s discussions often came back to how to create sustainable high-speed broadband access in areas with low population density. “Admittedly for a business whose mission is to turn a profit providing high speed internet in rural areas is a recipe for market failure,” said Davis. “Clearly the solution will be providing incentives and grants to make the project more doable and attractive,” she added.

Attendees at a group session at the recent Regional Rural Broadband Forum, hosted by event partners the Rural Maryland Council (RMC) and USDA Rural Development (RD). The forum included six sessions providing attendees with information ranging from the different broadband technologies commonly used in rural communities to best practices used in New York’s “Broadband for All” initiative.

The tone of the forum remained optimistic despite the acknowledgement that there will be no easy solutions. “We cannot have an equal society without equal access to broadband,” said RMC chair Josh Hastings.

Chiming in on that note was Maryland State Senator Adelaide C. Eckardt. “It is all about getting connected and for us (in rural areas) it is the art of the possible. It all works better when we work together,” she said.

Founded in 1994, the Rural Maryland Council serves as the state’s federally designated rural development council and functions as a voice for rural Maryland, advocating for and helping rural communities and businesses across the state to flourish and to gain equity to its suburban and urban counterparts. To learn more call (410) 841-5774, email rmc.mda@maryland.gov or connect with the Rural Maryland Council at facebook.com/RuralMaryland or on Twitter @RuralMaryland.

USDA Rural Development is committed to improving the economy and quality of life in rural America. RD provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; homeownership; community services such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit the USDA website,

For more information on the Regional Rural Broadband Forum, call (410) 841-5774 or visit their website.

 

Mid-Shore Pro Bono Opens Centreville Office

Mid-Shore Pro Bono recently opened an office in Centreville, MD located near the Queen Anne’s County Court House at 108 Broadway. This new location provides direct access to Upper Mid-Shore residents in need of civil legal advice and services and enhances Mid Shore Pro Bono’s presence as a community-based service provider in Queen Anne’s and Kent counties.

Court Liaison and Bilingual Staff Member, Ivette Salarich.

“The rural nature of the Mid-Shore makes it challenging for low-income residents to access the legal services they need,” said Sandy Brown, Mid-Shore Pro Bono Executive Director. “Our new Centreville location gives us a physical presence in Queen Anne’s County where we can strengthen relationships with volunteer attorneys, court personnel and community based organizations. Developing these connections helps us better serve our clients and refer them to the resources they need near their homes or work.”

The Centreville office is open Monday-Thursday from 10:00am – 4:00pm and offers bilingual services in English and Spanish. Walk-ins are welcome and no appointments are necessary. Mid-Shore Pro Bono staff members are available to assist with the intake process, referrals to community resources and space is also available for clinics and private meetings between clients and their volunteer attorneys.

About Mid-Shore Pro Bono

Mid-Shore Pro Bono Mid-Shore Pro Bono connects low-income individuals and families who need civil legal services with volunteer attorneys and community resources. The organization serves citizens of Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline, Talbot and Dorchester counties. For more information, to apply for services or to make a donation, call Mid-Shore Pro Bono at 410-690-8128 or visit www.midshoreprobono.org.

Allegra Publishing Kicks Off in St. Michaels

Would you like to go beyond the dusty family album? Allegria Publishing, a new company on the Eastern Shore, can help. Its motto is, “We bring the past to life.” With an array of talents, its founders have experience in writing, editing, research, and videography. They have produced biographies, folios, and personal videos, using family archives. Would you like to self-publish the book you have always dreamed of writing, or produce a Ken Burns type short video of your family history? Allegra Publishing can help.

Carl Widell, who studied history at Princeton, and reality in Vietnam, heads up the firm. He has self-published two books and is putting the final touches on a biography of a prominent attorney on the shore. Due to his military background, Carl understands how to research old military service records. He is assisted by Pamela Heyne Widell who has published three books, including her latest on Julia Child and kitchen design. She also is an experienced videographer.

In researching their own family archive, the Widells produced a short video about Carl’s grandfather, E.D. Johnston, who served with Canadian forces in WWI.

Johnston’s war diary describes experiencing the first mustard gas attack on April 22, 1915. His photo album contains pictures from the trenches, as well as happier occasions. One picture depicts two laughing WWI officers holding a mirror, in which the photographer, Carl’s grandfather, was reflected. Could this be the first selfie?

Carl’s siblings were surprised and delighted with the video, and sent it on to other friends and relations. According to Carl, “Our families are so spread around now, that our oral histories are lost. With so many images flooding the internet, it is particularly meaningful to celebrate original images from our own archives.”

Pamela Heyne Widell, also known as Pamela Heyne, is an architect and continues to practice. However, she likes the “sleuthing” aspect of writing. Years ago she wrote a book on the architectural mirror. In the rare book room at the Library of Congress, she read an old French 17th century account from a visitor to the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. “He was dazzled, and I was fascinated to relive his emotion, hundreds of years later,” Pam says.

Contact information: allegriapublishing.com 23901 Mount Misery Road, Saint Michaels, Md. 21663 410-714-9555

Maryland 3.0: WC “Dream Team” Creates Apps in NASA Competition

A group of Washington College students and faculty sat down at the beginning of May to work on “You Are My Sunshine.”

No, they weren’t rehearsing old folk songs. Instead, they were working on a NASA space challenge – an international effort to find ways to educate the public about solar power and its possible benefits both for ordinary people and for a possible exploring party on Mars.

Washington College Associate Professor Shaun Ramsey of the “Dream Team” writes data on the wall of the Hot Desks center as other team mebers watch. From left, Joseph Erlandson,, Luis Machado, Katie Walker and Ian Egland.

Taking part in the project were Ian Egland, a 2016 WC graduate in Computer Science; Joseph Erlandson, a senior Computer Science major; Katie Walker, a Senior majoring in Environmental Studies; Luis Machado, a 2013 graduate now working as a project manager at the college’s Geographic Information Systems laboratory; and Associate Professor Shaun Ramsey, of the Computer Science and Mathematics departments at Washington College.

The group began work at the “Hot Desks” co-working center  at 903 Washington Ave. Michael Thielke of the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center and Jamie Williams, Kent County Economic Development Coordinator, arranged for them to use the facility before the official opening

The “Dream Team,” as they named themselves, went to work  at 8 a.m. Saturday, April 29, for a 48-hour “hackathon.” Williams and Thielke were on hand to assemble furniture for the hot desk center and to provide breakfast and other meals during the project. The team set up computers in the large main room, using the facility’s high-speed wifi connection. They even took advantage of the dry-erase walls to jot down computations, web links,  and other information for handy reference.

Ramsey said the project was related to one that NASA is conducting in Hawaii right now, simulating conditions on Mars. “In space, power usage is variable, and mission critical, and essential to life,” so understanding power consumption is essential, he said. “The app that we’re developing is for everyday people to better understand their power consumption,” he said. Since solar power is freely available in space, the project focuses on that form of energy.

The Dream Team compiled a list of several typical home appliances – refrigerator, microwave, TV, air conditioner, etc. – and listed their typical power usage. In each case, the power draw listed is an average. Older, less efficient appliances will use more than new ones designed to minimize power consumption.

They also looked at the amount of sunlight available in Kent County over different seasons, so as to get a practical estimate of what kinds of equipment could be run on solar alone.

Ramsey said the group was one of 74 different teams from all over the world that worked on their particular problem. Presumably they’d all come up with different solutions, though the teams were allowed to share ideas, and NASA might well choose to combine results from several different teams once the project was completed.

Overall, the competition had five different categories, each of which included several different projects. Ramsey said it would be several weeks before NASA announces the results.

Ramsey updated the status of the project in an email, June 1. He wrote, “In the end, we created two applications that are useful, intuitive and that showcase solar power.” He said he had three goals for the competition: “To contribute to the overall community. To make an application of which I’d be happy to claim ownership. And the last was to have something that could inspire and grow. Something that could spawn other ideas and be developed into something larger if someone were inspired or interested. I definitely feel we accomplished all three of those.”

As of the date of writing, he said, “The awards have not yet been announced. We’re not in the finalists for people’s choice, but that’s to expected with such a smaller network compared to, say, a big school in a big city. It is possible we “win” one of the other awards, but there have been no posted results yet. (…) I do feel like we will be in the running,” he said. He said he would let the Spy know when results were announced.

Ramsey said the Dream Team had posted a brief video telling about their work. They also posted an update with more details. He also provided a like to an overview of the NASA challenge.

Click here for information on the “Hot Desks” facility.

Maryland 3.0: Making Eastern Shore Towns “Cool”

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day, 34, has a floor-to-ceiling erasable board dotted with Post-it notes on the longest wall of his office.

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day

It’s a jarring display of terrestrial organization for a millennial, but Day is hardly old school. He’s got two masters degrees, one from Carnegie Mellon in urban design and the other from Oxford in environmental policy. He is also an officer in the Maryland National Guard and a local boy whose father was recently named COO of Perdue Farms.

“There were moments when, as a 9-year-old living in Salisbury, I was thinking I really want to be mayor in this town,” said Day.

So he’s had plenty of time to think about how he’d change things in a city with a history of helter-skelter development and a stubborn crime rate.

“The biggest thing for us has been arts, entertainment and culture,” Day explained. “Recognizing that those things can be more than an ancillary benefit, but a driver has been big for us.”

Day is staring down a core problem in rural Maryland: People are dying faster than they’re being replaced, and where they’re not the numbers are trending that way. So retaining residents and attracting new ones is vital. Because creating jobs, enticing new industries and rebuilding infrastructure matters little if there’s no one around to fill those jobs, drive on those new roads or enjoy those renovated downtowns.

And cities like Salisbury, Frederick and Cumberland — small urban anchors in Maryland’s rural areas — could be where the revitalization begins.

Or where it’s already underway.

A matter of life and death

Garrett, Allegany, Kent, Talbot, Dorchester, Somerset and Worcester counties all had more deaths than births in 2015, according Maryland’s Vital Statistics Report. Leading the way on the Eastern Shore was Kent, which had a third fewer births than deaths. In Western Maryland it was Allegany, where the disparity was 27 percent.

In Wicomico County, where Salisbury is located, the numbers are rosier. In 2015, births beat deaths by 36 percent. However, in 2010 that number was 50 percent. The same trend is there for Frederick County, where births outpaced death two to one in 2010, but slowed to five for every three in 2015.

Population problems in rural areas tend to get framed in economic terms. The argument goes that young people won’t stay if there are no jobs, but the jobs won’t come if there are no young people to fill them. But the jobs are there.

According to Maryland’s Workforce Exchange, there were more than 600 open job listings in Wicomico County, the majority of which were in Salisbury. The numbers are similar in Frederick and Allegany, with more than 500 open job listings in both counties as of late April.

“The problem is that we’re just not adding people at the same rate that we’re adding jobs,” Day said.

Part of the challenge includes boosting the quality, pay and benefits of available jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there has been a pronounced economic shift in Salisbury over the last 10 years from producing things to delivering services — and with it, more jobs that tend to pay less and come with fewer benefits.

In order to sell employment that might not stack up salary-wise to urban areas, mayors like Day and Randy McClement in the city of Frederick are increasingly turning to what they can offer instead: quality of life.

“The thing we’ve been able to do is make Frederick a destination,” said McClement, who’s been mayor there since 2009. “We’ve done that with a hip feel. Millennials are looking for a livable, walkable city. By delivering that, we’re attracting the younger generation.”

The city of Frederick, basically the model for small to mid-size urban redevelopment in Maryland, has the luxury of being perched at the top of I-270 corridor, in commuting distance to job-rich Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County. Salisbury is more remote, and the people who live near it more reliant on its services.

When asked what Salisbury’s 33,000-odd residents needs most, Day points first to an intangible.

“The thing we struggle to overcome more than anything else is a change to our community self-esteem,” he said. “We look to ourselves in a poorer light than any metric would suggest that we should.”

Day is referring in part to Salisbury’s crime problem. According to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, the city’s violent crime rate per 100,000 people in 2015 was almost double the state average, though it has fallen in recent years.

“We’ve had some dark times and those things linger,” said Day. “It’s easy to latch onto them as your identity and it’s a lot tougher to get people to believe that things aren’t so bad.”

Downtown Salisbury

To help put the past behind, Day wants to remake pretty much the entire city. And, thanks to a partnership he initiated between Salisbury and the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning, he has a blueprint to do it.

It focuses on the city’s urban core, dividing it into seven neighborhoods, and includes everything from streetscape redesign to newly constructed modern buildings and bridges along the city’s riverwalk on either side of the Wicomico River, which snakes west to east through Salisbury’s center.

Day is hyperfocused on the city’s physical appearance, particularly its branding and signage, but also its benches, planters and trash cans, which are not uniform at present and clearly bother the mayor’s design sense.

Salisbury’s master plan has a proposed price tag of about $640 million over 20 years, nearly 75 percent of which is meant to come from private sector investment. The plan is aggressive and maybe unrealistic, but also visionary. And perhaps no surprise from a mayor with an undergraduate degree in architecture and a masters in urban planning.

Day is also pursuing smaller, less costly efforts at rebranding Salisbury, including being a finalist to host the National Folk Festival for three years, a 175,000-person event that takes place over a long fall weekend each year. Prior hosts include Nashville and Richmond, with Greensboro, N.C., as the event’s current location.

Finally, one of the simpler efforts Day and his team are doing is something called 3rd Fridays, where the city organizes arts and crafts vendors and live music in the city’s historic quarter.

“We had to focus on our own market first so we stopped worrying about the beaches and Baltimore and Washington for a minute and tried to figure out how to get local people to show up,” Day said.

Initial funding for 3rd Fridays the first year was around $20,000. In 2016, it was $280,000.

Given the size and scope of his efforts, it’s fair to question Day’s ability to keep all of them on track, including management of Salisbury’s 435 city employees.

But Day is a believer in using data to make decisions and runs his weekly management meetings like a military battle briefing. Each of his department heads have between four and six key metrics that they measure and then provide updates on on a weekly basis. These include things like potholes filled and lane miles paved and travel time on fire department calls.

“We’re measuring constantly and we’re making decisions based on that,” said Day, his enthusiasm growing as he drills down on yet another topic. “The weakness is the linkage to mapping. We need to reinvent our use of GIS (geographic information systems).”

Something Day will probably incorporate into his briefings soon.

by J.F. Meils

Shore Leadership Class Meets at Wye River Upper School

The 2017 Shore Leadership class met at Wye River Upper School in Queen Anne’s County on May 24th for the first of 7 sessions.  Two students from Wye River Upper School greeted and welcomed the class to the completely renovated Centreville National Guard Barracks which Wye River now calls home.

The morning session was facilitated by Dr. Joe Thomas on Leading with Strengths.  The class had completed the Strengths Finder assessment and used that information throughout the morning as they worked with Dr. Thomas.

After lunch, Ms. Chrissy Aull, founder and Executive Director of Wye River Upper School discussed the history of the school and why there is a need for schools like Wye River.  Three students shared their stories and talked about how their learning differences held them back at their other schools but that at Wye River their differences have become their strengths and have helped them to be successful.  The students and Ms. Aull gave the class a tour of the renovated campus. 

Dr. Jon Andes, Executive Director of the Eastern Shore of Maryland Education Consortium, spoke to the class about the State of Public Education in Maryland.  He shared the laws the govern Maryland public education and told the class that each year there is a deficit of more than 2000 qualified teachers in Maryland.  The Maryland colleges are not producing enough teachers and students are not enrolling to become teachers.  Neighboring states are also seeing a decline in their teacher education programs. He also shared that since 1986 the nine counties on the Eastern Shore have been part of the ESMEC consortium which gives them a bigger voice with the legislature and with the Maryland State Department of Education.

Later in the afternoon Marci Leach from Chesapeake College and Bryan Newton from Wor-Wic Community College led a discussion and game show which highlighted the role of Community Colleges in today’s world.  Deborah Urry, Executive Director of the Eastern Shore Higher Education Center shared information about the baccalaureate and graduate degrees offered at the Center which is located on the Chesapeake College Wye Mills Campus.

Throughout the day the class focused on how strengths can be used as a focus for leadership development.  The next session will be held in Caroline County in June and will deal with the topic of Rural Health Care.

Easton Utilities Welcomes Summer Interns

Six fresh faces have arrived at Easton Utilities eager to begin participating in the summer-long internship program, now in its eighth year. The company welcomed Morgan Kearney, Mining and Civil Engineering Majors from West Virginia University; Erin Sauter, Computer Science and Engineering Majors from Washington College; and Susanna Shaffer, Graphic Design Major from Liberty University, plus three Salisbury University students – Christopher Bounds, Environmental Studies Major; Nicholas Marshall, Accounting Major; and Will Peerman, Business Administration Major.

Back row, L to R: Christopher Bounds, Nicholas Marshall, Will Peerman; Front row, L to R: Morgan Kearney, Erin Sauter, Susanna Shaffer

The internship program is a formal, comprehensive experience consisting of tours, learning workshops, projects and presentations. The tours and workshops educate the interns on the various services, infrastructure, and demands of each department at Easton Utilities. While completing this in-depth orientation, the interns are fully submerged in their respective departments for a true hands-on experience. In the first few weeks, they each select a specific project to focus on during the internship and are required to give a presentation at the culmination of the program. Hugh E. Grunden, President and CEO of Easton Utilities, stated, “An internship with Easton Utilities is an ideal opportunity to apply lessons learned in the classroom and acquire firsthand knowledge in an active business environment.”

The program is led by Melissa Book, Human Resources Assistant and Athena Mellis, Systems Analyst in IT, who was also an intern in 2015. The internship experience has helped many interns secure full time positions with both Easton Utilities and elsewhere upon graduating.

For more information about the internship program at Easton Utilities, please call 410-822-6110.

Easton Velocity Increases Speed at No Additional Cost

Easton Velocity is increasing the speeds for three of its four internet tiers for residential customers. The free upgrades will go into effect today, June 1, 2017, and demonstrate Easton Velocity’s commitment to customer satisfaction. “As technology evolves and the number of connected devices in the home expands, we must continue to make investments to not only meet, but exceed, the demands of our customers,” said Ted L. Book, Director of Cable and Communications for Easton Utilities.

In addition to increasing speeds, Easton Velocity has also created a new tier and reduced the price of its high-end tier. “This new speed and pricing tier offer a better variety of options for the range of customer needs we serve,” added Book. The increased speeds are the result of Easton Velocity’s extensive fiber-optic resources, investments in state-of-the-art technology and acquisition of additional internet capacity.

The upgrades are automatic; however, those wishing to change to a new tier will need to contact Customer Service at 410-822-6110.

Residential Internet Speeds/Pricing

Tier                    Former Speed        Former Price       Current Speed         Current Price
Starter               5/1                            $30                        10/1 Mbps                $30
Value                 25/2                         $48                         25/2 Mbps               $48
Value PLUS     New                          New                        50/3 Mbps               $60
Standard          75/5                          $75                         100/5 Mbps             $75
Ultimate          100/10                      $145                       200/10 Mbps          $100

Easton Velocity, a service of Easton Utilities, is committed to keeping our community connected and current with a variety of service offerings designed to meet the needs of both residential and commercial customers. Easton Utilities is a community-owned, not-for-profit utility and telecommunications company operating the Electric, Natural Gas, Water, Wastewater, Cable Television, and Internet services for the Town of Easton and portions of the surrounding area.

Please visit www.eastonutilities.com or call 410-822-6110 to learn more.

Anyone Need Their Own Courthouse?

​RWN Development Group, owned by award-winning regional developer Richard Naing, announces the auction of the Cambridge Courthouse, on Tuesday, June 6th, after more than 15 years of ownership.

The 23,460 SF building, located in the Historic District of Downtown Cambridge, was originally constructed in 1916 as an armory. Designated as a National Historic Landmark, by the National Park Service, the building was converted into a 3-story courthouse in 2002 and recently completed a $1M renovation in July, 2016. The building has been 100% leased since 2002 by the State of Maryland, with an AAA credit rating. The lease was recently renewed in 2016 for an additional 10 years.

The courthouse includes a courtroom, holding cell, and supporting agencies, such as Parole & Probation and Public Defenders. There is an additional 2,000 SF that can be used for additional development or expansion on the 21,113 SF lot, two blocks away from the waterfront.

The 48-hour online live bid event, hosted by Ten-X Commercial, will begin on Tuesday, June 6th and conclude on Thursday, June 8th. Prospective bidders must pre-register online before they
can place any bids. The registration process requires prospective bidders to provide proof of funds, which are statements or other documentation demonstrating the bidder’s cash and/or cash-equivalent asset position. The minimum required proof of funds to register for an asset is
generally equal to the starting bid of that asset. Additionally, prospective bidders must either sign the participation agreement or submit a refundable participation deposit.

For additional information regarding the property and request for tours, contact Michael McNeill at mcneill@rwndg.com or 410-528-0011×4 or Richard Naing at rnaing@rwndg.com.

Willow Construction, LLC Announces Corporate Officers

Willow Construction, LLC is pleased to announce that the following associates have been appointed Officers of the Company.

Justin Hiner, Estimator, has been with the company for 18 years.  He oversees all aspects of Willow’s estimating department.  He is responsible for preconstruction services as well as competitive bids.  Justin will serve as Corporate Secretary.

Eric Milhollan, CHC, Senior Project Manager, has been with the company for 21 years.  In addition to coordinating our staff of craft professionals, he serves as Project Manager on some of Willow’s most challenging projects.  He has extensive experience in the area of Healthcare Construction and holds the designation of Certified Healthcare Constructor.  Eric will serve as Corporate Treasurer.

Justin and Eric are both residents of Talbot County and graduates of Shore Leadership.  Eric also serves on the board of the Talbot Chamber of Commerce.

Founded in 1973, Willow Construction has grown to become one of the most respected commercial, industrial and residential builders on the Delmarva Peninsula. The company is headquartered in Easton, MD and serves Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.

For more information about the company, visit www.willowconstruction.com.