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Proponents say fed center could be boon 
Chamber and business leaders say FASTC could breathe new life into local economies

By JACK SHAUM Special from The Bay Times
Friday, January 29, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 3:49 pm, Wed Jan 27, 2010. 

PHOTO BY KONRAD SUROWIEC

Pictured at left - A lane off state Route Damsontown Road (state Route 481), just north of Crouse Mill Road, in Queen Anne's County leads to Hunt Ray Farm. The U.S. State  Department is in negotiations with the property owner to buy up to 2,000 acres to build a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center. 

RUTHSBURG  Amid opposition to a proposed federal Foreign Affairs Security Training Center in Ruthsburg from residents and others who say it will change their way of life, there are those who insist it could bring many benefits to the Mid- and Upper Shore region.

Representatives of area chambers of commerce and a local business organization believe the facility could breathe new life into local economies.

At issue is a proposal from the U.S. General Services Administration and the State Department to consolidate all their training facilities from around the country at a training center that would be built on 2,050 acres near state Routes 304 and 481.

A number of Ruthsburg-area residents spoke out against the proposal at two recent public meetings and several local officials have withdrawn their earlier support for it.

"There are quite a few benefits," said Linda Friday, president of the Queen Anne's County Chamber of Commerce. "We're going to have the construction jobs, the administrative positions. We're going to have hotels that will be used."

Because it would be some time before residential facilities could be built at the center for those who would be trained there, Friday said many of those people would likely be housed at area hotels.

"When you've got that many people going through training, think of the hotel that may have laid off people that can bring those people back because now they're maxed out," Friday said. "Or the restaurant  maybe it's a slow time for them, maybe it'll increase their traffic."

Friday predicted what she called a "ripple effect" if the facility is built. She said in addition to business for hotels and restaurants, other existing businesses would benefit.

"You've got our gas stations and hair salons, the liquor store on the corner," she explained. Friday also said it is possible that spouses of government employees who move to the Shore to work at the center and who have small businesses could relocate those businesses here.

The federal government estimated that the center could lead to the creation of 400 full- and part-time jobs in the area. Friday believes those would include service jobs such as cafeteria workers, maintenance people, and construction crews among others.

Mareen Waterman, chairman of Business Queen Anne's, a Kent Island-based organization advocating sound economic growth, agrees. He also foresees many jobs that would appeal to local people who "deserve some means of employment."

"Janitorial, lawn service, laundry service  all those kinds of things," Waterman said in describing the types of jobs he sees being created. "You've probably got a whole bunch of unemployed construction workers at the present time who would just love to have a nice steady government service job."

Business Queen Anne's has officially endorsed the project and Waterman says it could be an opportunity for the county to receive federal dollars to address some infrastructure problems.

"Of course they haven't said anything for sure, but we think probably we can get the federal government to fund the overpass out at (U.S. Route) 301 (and State Route 304) and perhaps to widen the Ruthsburg Road," he said. "They're badly needed and of course the additional traffic will only add to that need."

The county has long been pushing for an overpass at that intersection.

Waterman agrees that federal officials were inadequately prepared to answer questions at the recent public meetings, but he added that "from an economic development point of view, I would think that any county would want it."

Cindy Genther, executive director of the Kent County Chamber of Commerce, said the training center would be an economic plus to the entire Eastern Shore. 

Not only would there be new jobs, there would be business for the lodging and restaurant industry and beyond, she said.

"Our tourism business might increase as well. Other towns in Kent County could benefit as well," she said, adding that charter fishing out of places like Rock Hall could see business from those who train and work at the center.

"People will need to do something other than just attend the classes. We believe the facility would have a significant positive impact on our established businesses," Genther explained.

She also said there could be opportunities for Washington College and Chesapeake College to partner with the center to increase the numbers and types of majors they offer.

In Genther's words, the possibilities are "endless."

Fred Spence, incoming president of the Caroline County Chamber of Commerce, says job creation would have a significant impact on the region.

"One of the problems we have on the Shore is unemployment," he said. He sees construction jobs, road jobs, site developing jobs, and others that would be needed to support those who would be trained as well as those who would come in to visit the facility.

"They'll require a lot of ancillary services and maybe the need for more specialized businesses to start up to address their needs," Spence said. He believes those people would spend lots of money in the local community. "You have to take in the big picture."

It could also bring higher pay scales into play locally, he explained

Spence also believes that some people who now cross the Bay Bridge to go to their jobs elsewhere might be able to both live and work on the Shore if the facility is built. He says those would be "stay-at-home dollars" that now go out of the community.

At the Upper Shore Workforce Investment Board, which helps people in the region find work, Executive Director Dan McDermott said his organization has not taken a stand and will wait to see how the matter plays out.

"When growth happens, our role is to help," he said. "If local counties determine that this is a go we want local folks to get the jobs."

He said his group would contact the State Department to find out about the types of jobs that would be created and go about helping find people to fill them.

Proponents also spoke of the opposition that has been growing in recent weeks. Genther believes there is "a very vocal minority" opposing the center. She said from what she has heard from business owners in Kent County and from what she has heard from Queen Anne's County, there are many who are for it.

"I think our voice is not being heard as loud as the minority of residents that are opposing the facility," she said. She hopes that will change because chamber members are being asked to express their opinions to U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who has demanded that the General Services Administration 

improve the process of informing the public about the project.

Friday said she has seen "unbelievable support" for the center and believes that a "majority in Queen Anne's and surrounding counties are for it." She is collecting comments from throughout the region to be passed on to the proper authorities.

"The opposition, frankly I think, was somewhat staged," Waterman said. "You look at the people who were involved in the forefront of the opposition they have a habit of opposing most anything."

Waterman said he is convinced the project ultimately will go ahead.

"There's no question that the people out in Ruthsburg are going to have their lives somewhat disturbed, but I don't think the disturbance is going to be all that excessive," he said. "I believe the government will do everything it can to modify the impacts on people."

In response to one such question, Chuck Raderstorf, project director for the FASTC for the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, eme time to do this prior to the final decision to get community input."


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