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.

 

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

Making it Work on the Shore: Ace Moritz and Eastern Shore Brewing

The craft beer business was in its infancy when Adrian (Ace) Moritz started to work in the industry during the early 1990s in one of Vermont’s earliest local breweries, the Long Trail Brewing Company. It was hard to tell then that the local brew industry would become the booming business it has become, but it started a lifetime passion for Ace.

After leaving Long Trail, and deciding to leave a lucrative private sector career in New York, Ace and his wife decided to risk everything when they started Eastern Shore Brewing Company in St. Michaels in 2009 to follow his passion.

And over the course of the last nine years, Ace has learned a great deal about moving from the love of a home brewery to the complications and challenges that come with a full retail and wholesale operation. Those lessons have continuously change the business model as he continues to find the sweet spot between maintaining a sustainable business and remain competitive as craft beer takes over some of the smallest towns on the Eastern Shore.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about Eastern Shore Brewing please go here.

Stagg appointed as new Easton Utilities Commissioner

Mayor Robert C. Willey swore in William B. Stagg as a new commissioner of the Easton Utilities Commission on May 1, 2017 for a six-year term. Mr. Stagg has 35 years of experience in the mid-Atlantic region providing private and public sector master planning, site planning and landscape architectural design services. He is currently a principal with Lane Engineering, LLC directing much of the firms land development planning, design and engineering efforts.

As a member of the Easton Utilities Commission, Mr. Stagg is charged with governance responsibilities for Easton Utilities. He succeeds David J. North who retired in April after serving for 12 years, including two years as Chairman of the Commission. “Bill’s experience, knowledge and commitment to environmental preservation will be an ideal complement to our strong commission,” said Hugh E. Grunden, President and CEO of Easton Utilities.

Mr. Stagg resides in Easton and is active in the community. He was the past President of the Rotary Club and Habitat for Humanity Choptank.

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. Visit www.eastonutilities.com for more information.

David North completes Final Year as a Commissioner for Easton Utilities

David J. North has completed his twelfth and final year as a Commissioner for Easton Utilities. Since 2005, Mr. North has been providing strategic direction and oversight for both operations and management. In his last two years, he served as Chairman of the Commission. “I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Easton Utilities grow and succeed amidst the ever-changing economy and landscape in our community,” said North. “Above all, I cherished the opportunity to work with such an extraordinary organization that simply shines with pride and professionalism from top to bottom in all departments.”

David North and Hugh E. Grunden

Mr. North helped position Easton Utilities for a strong future by recognizing the importance of infrastructure investment and exceptional customer service. “As a lifelong resident of Talbot County, David’s sincere commitment to the success of our organization and this community has been unwavering,” stated Hugh E. Grunden, President and CEO of Easton Utilities. “Both Easton Utilities and the Town of Easton thank him for his significant contributions.”
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. Visit www.eastonutilities.com for more information.

Oxford’s Scottish Highland Creamery to Change Ownership

Pictured from left are Victor and Susan Barlow, G.L. Fronk, Gordon Fronk and Michael Fronk.

After twelve years of owning and operating The Scottish Highland Creamery, Susan and Victor Barlow are pleased to share that the business will be passed on and sold to the Fronk Family at the conclusion of the 2017 season. The Barlows and the Fronks are fully committed to working together to ensure a smooth transition over the summer and beyond so customers will continue to enjoy the same delicious ice cream they have come to expect for years to come.

“It’s been a wonderful twelve years building this business, serving our community and being welcomed into the traditions and celebrations of our customers,” said the Barlows. “However, after 35 years of making ice cream, Victor has decided to ‘pass the scoop on’ as it was to him. We cannot put into words how much we appreciate the Town of Oxford for embracing us from the start and giving us the opportunity to do what we love. The familiar faces you have come to know at the window will not change, as our entire staff will be staying with the business.”

“The Scottish Highland Creamery will be our family business,” said GL and Michael Fronk, who will be running the day-to-day operations. “Customers can rest assured that we share the Barlows’ commitment to family, hard work and the Town of Oxford. We are honored that Victor has chosen us to carry on his recipes and techniques so that his ice cream will continue to be enjoyed by current and future generations. We are excited to lead the business into its next chapter.”

The Fronks are familiar faces around The Scottish Highland Creamery and have deep roots in Oxford and Talbot County. Gordon and Sally Fronk have been pillars of our community for many years. Their sons, GL and Michael, who will be managing the day-to-day operations of the business, both have a strong background in the Food & Beverage industry. GL and his wife, Laura, a teacher at Saints Peter and Paul, live in Trappe with their two children. Michael is currently in the process of moving back to Talbot County with his wife, Allison, a flight attendant, and two daughters.

“While bittersweet, we are excited about our future and that of The Scottish Highland Creamery,” said the Barlows. “Now that we have secured the legacy of the business we’ve built, we are looking forward to spending time with family and figuring out what’s next. The fond memories from the years of establishing and growing our business and the thousands of people we’ve met and served along the way will remain with us always. We hope our patrons will continue to show The Scottish Highland Creamery and the Fronks the same loyalty and love you have bestowed on us for the past twelve years.”

PRS Guitars’ Founder Receives Honorary Doctorate from Washington College

Paul Reed Smith, founder and Managing General Partner of PRS Guitars, has received an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service from Maryland’s Washington College. The degree, which was in recognition of Paul’s significant achievements as an innovative and creative thinker, was presented to Smith by Washington College President Sheila Bair during a public ceremony on Thursday, April 13.

Paul was recognized for both PRS Guitars, his successful business that has been designing and manufacturing electric guitars and basses, acoustic guitars, and amplifiers for some of the world’s most prestigious musicians for more than 30 years, and also his new cutting-edge company: Digital Harmonic, LLC, which marries art and science with developed image and waveform technology.
“Paul is a remarkable example of entrepreneurial spirit; a kid builds a guitar in high school woodshop and ends up as Managing Partner and Founder of the third largest guitar manufacturer in the US. Many would tell you that the company makes the best electric guitars that have ever been made,” said George Spilich, a professor of psychology and director of the Cromwell Center for Teaching and Learning at Washington College who treasures his own PRS guitar. “Now Paul is taking his expertise in signal processing and pivoting that knowledge into the creation of a signal processing company that has the promise of greatly improving medical imaging. If all that does not merit recognition in the business world, I don’t know what does.”

“I am very appreciative to be recognized by the Department of Business Management at Washington College,” said Paul Reed Smith. “I hope it serves as inspiration to the students, that regardless of where you start, things are possible with determination, a plan and great work ethics.”

Paul joins a prestigious circle of honorary degree recipients that includes U.S. Presidents (including George Washington) and nationally renowned scientists, writers, artists, historians, and statesmen. Paul has visited Washington College on several occasions, offering master classes in music, and performing with the Paul Reed Smith Band.

Aside from Smith’s professional success, he is also dedicated to giving back to the community through PRS Guitars’ fundraising efforts for the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center Living with Cancer program and his mentorship program, which he personally has delivered at dozens of area secondary schools and colleges including Washington College. The mentorship program, which is largely funded by Smith himself, focuses on achieving goals and dreams through positive work ethics and responsibility. Paul is convinced that if he can reach even one student at each program that it is worth his time and effort.

Maryland 3.0: Screaming and Shaking at Justine’s with Tyler Heim

There is something rather extraordinary about a small town ice cream parlor. It inevitably strikes a nerve of memory and nostalgia for many Americans as they recall their families special trips in the early evening of summer to the local stand on Main Street.

And one of those very special places is Justine’s Ice Cream Parlour in St. Michaels.

Known for having the longest lines in town during the summer months, including those eager to visit the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Justine’s over the last 30 years has become on those iconic snapshots of life on the Eastern Shore.

But behind the counter is another great American story of young entrepreneurs taking the concept of the summer ice cream place to an entirely different level. And that was the motivation behind the Spy’s recent interview with ice cream maker Tyler Heim,who, along with his brother, Jared, has been managing Justine’s for the store’s owner (and aunt) Kathleen Lash over the last few years.

When we talked to Tyler last week in the store last week, Tyler gave us an excellent overview of the world of local ice cream, the art of milkshake making, and plans to scale up the Justine brand in the years ahead.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information on Justine’s please go here. Maryland 3.0 is an ongoing Spy series on entrepreneurship on the Mid-Shore. 

Maryland 3.0: Sprouts Starts to Take Over the Eastern Shore

Just so you know….perhaps one of the most significant “foodie” experiments in the country is taking place on the Mid-Shore.

A young couple, primarily trained in nutritional science and fitness, decide to escape the rat race of the Western Shore and relocate to Trappe to start a food delivery business dedicated to high quality prepared meals with locally sourced produce and meat.

The concept was simple. Rather than send clients the raw materials to make a nutritious meal (think Blue Apron), Sprout owners Ryan and Emily Groll would take it to the next level and actually cook the meals for its customers.

Sprout would do all the work. Whether it be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a snack, Ryan and Emily identify local farmers within a 200-mile range that produce some of the most exquisite examples of fruit, vegetables, chicken, pork, or beef in the region to produce meals that could be left at your doorstep twice a week.

Fast-forward one year later Sprouts has become an increasingly important provider on the entire Eastern Shore as well is in Annapolis. With Ryan’s mother in Chestertown, the couple continues to seek a local partner to help as a delivery station, which they call a “Sproutlet,” but they hope to cover the entire Mid-Shore within the next two years.

The Spy spent some quality time with Ryan in his portable kitchen in Trappe to discuss the couple’s courage and conviction it took to start a business of this kind and their aspirations over the next few years.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about Sprouts please go here