by Shawn Gainer
CLARKSBURG -- There are many similarities between the cities of Clarksburg and Cumberland, Md.
Both are located in the midst of Appalachia. Both have populations over 15,000 but less than 24,000. Both have experienced massive job losses in the industrial sector during the last 30 years.
Clarksburg was once home to large industrial employers such as Anchor-Hocking and Pittsburgh Plate Glass. Until 1988, Cumberland was home to a Kelly Tires plant.
"There is a similarity in the fact we have lost a tremendous amount of industry," said Jeffery Rhodes, Cumberland's director of community development and former city manager of Grafton. "Both are old communities with a history of smokestack industry, and both are regional centers."
In the 1940s, Cumberland was known as the "Queen City," second only to Baltimore in population. However, in succeeding years, both industry and residents left, Rhodes said.
"We had the big infrastructure with fewer people to pay for it," he said. "For years, the community has been going through adjustments and trying to diversify the economy."
There are also similarities in how officials in both cities are working to revitalize their business climates. Like Clarksburg, Cumberland offers tax incentives to prospective businesses, has enacted a removal program for blighted properties and has a main street project based on the National Main Street Program.
While Clarksburg officials are in the midst of a project to create a 19th century, ethnic atmosphere in the Glen Elk neighborhood, Rhodes said Cumberland has a waterfront development project intended to revive the heritage of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
Like Clarksburg officials, their counterparts in Cumberland have been "very aggressive" in seeking grants, he said.
Further development efforts in Cumberland include an $800,000 bond issue to fund physical improvements downtown and a $300,000 loan pool for businesses that is funded by the city and four banks. In a more unique move, the city of Cumberland has created its own industrial park, even though one had already been constructed by the government of Allegany County.
"The county was trying to focus on landing that next Toyota plant, offering facilities of 300,000 square feet," he said. "We thought we would be more successful targeting businesses that need between 5,000 and 10,000 square feet. We have some small manufacturers around town."
Other efforts include a tax incentive program for home-based businesses, marketing downtown building space to artists and craftsmen, and generally marketing the city as a good place to live and do business, he said.
Such marketing is becoming a trend in West Virginia cities, said Lisa Dooley, executive director of the state Municipal League.
"Cities in West Virginia are concentrating more on marketing themselves and their downtowns. For the most part, I believe that effort is working," Dooley said.
Dooley added that at one time it was assumed that businesses would locate within city limits, but businesses now often locate on the fringes. Because of state annexation laws, it is difficult for cities to absorb them.
Rhodes said he believes economic development efforts are making a difference in Cumberland, though he added that such efforts are easier in Maryland, where local officials have much more latitude in decision making.
"Maryland is a home-rule state. Cities can even set their own tax and utility rates," he said. "West Virginia is a heavily regulated state. People on the local level just don't have enough say in what they're dealing with."
Staff writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.