Rural Maryland Council reflects on 2024 challenges

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2023 Rural Maryland Summit for Rural Maryland Council PHOTO CREDIT: Edwin Remsberg

“Pathways to Prosperity” Summit caps off another successful year

When more than 200 rural community leaders and other stakeholders came together for the recent “Pathways to Prosperity” Summit regardless of whether you were listening to the keynote speaker Becky McCray, Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Atticks, Maryland Comptroller Brooke Lierman or the legislators and speakers leading sessions, there was one clear message – rural communities have an inherent ability to pivot, respond, and recover during hard times.

            The breakout sessions focused on this ability to dig deep and come up with creative solutions, a quality that rural communities can share with its suburban and urban counterparts so that all of Maryland can tackle the tough issues and come out the other end more resilent and sustainable.

            “Housing is an economic development issue,” said Andy Bauer, vice president and Baltimore Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, during the lunch plenary. “The housing issue is something that’s going to be with us for a while. It’s going to take a lot of innovation in order to provide or make it easier for more supply to come online in either the form of greater density and more single family units. It’s going to have to be intentional. At the end of the day everybody in those communities are going to have to be onboard,” he added.

            Finding balance and leveraging challenges for the better was the message that Secretary Atticks sent to Summit attendees. “Agriculture has to be profitable. Our farmers and our agricultural land are under so much pressure from development and from our clean energy goals,” he said. He didn’t stop there, adding a message about resource conservation. “We are farming in the context of the Bay. That’s a pressure. We need to protect the land, preserve the land, and make sure the land is working for the Bay, not just being profitable,” he adds.

            The Summit closed with a message of hope and encouragement to tackle the challenges that lie ahead and to continue to break barriers from someone who knows a lot about doing just that, the first woman Comptroller of the State of Maryland Brooke Lierman. “We are focused on a new vision under our new leadership and that is to be a partner in creating a state that is more equitable, more resilient and more prosperous so that every Marylander can reach their full potential,” said Lierman. “There are still barriers to break, but by working together we can keep breaking them,” she added.

            The Summit was just one of the key accomplishments for the Rural Maryland Council this year. Grant funding tops the list of achievements as the Rural Maryland Council received historic funding of the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund (RMPIF) in the amount $9,050,000 along with the Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund (MAERDAF), which received an additional $118,485. The funding enabled RMC to provide grants to the State’s five rural Regional Councils as well as 84 RMPIF grants totaling $8,369,629 and 47 MAERDAF grants totaling $1,153,203.

            Other 2023 RMC achievements include monitoring 135 bills, writing 60 position statements, passing three bills, and hosting seven legislative Committee meetings as well as co-hosting the 2023 Regional Rural Broadband Forum with the USDA Rural Development on June 21, 2023.

            Looking to the coming year’s legislative session, RMC has established several key priorities including:

  • Level funding of $9 million in the Fiscal Year 2025 operating budget for Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund (RMPIF);
  • Efforts to address affordable housing issues such as efforts to repair and weatherize homes to keep seniors aging in their homes as well as the creation of additional workforce housing units to serve public service and moderate income workers;
  • $1,000,000 for the Wood Products Industry Equity Investment Fund (WPIEI) to reach renewable energy goals and support upgrades in electric infrastructure;
  • Establishing programs and policies to sustain and enhance agricultural production and agritourism and efforts to address food security.

            “As we close this year, we’ll take a moment to appreciate our successes, and then quickly roll up our sleeves as we know that the challenges facing our rural communities continue to be numerous and complex,” says RMC Chair Susan O’Neill. “We encourage all our stakeholders to join us and draw on their resilience and ability to innovate so together we can build a stronger future for all Marylanders,” O’Neill adds.

            Founded in 1994, the Rural Maryland Council operates under the direction of a 40-member executive board in a nonpartisan and nondiscriminatory manner. RMC is committed to creating real change by going to go directly to the rural stakeholders who understand their community’s challenges. The organization provides grants and opportunities to connect stakeholders with legislators and like-minded people in the state who can create policy and help create real impact.

            For more information on the Rural Maryland Council or to get involved, visit rural.maryland.gov or contact RMC at (410) 841-5772 or [email protected]. For updates on events and activities connect with the Rural Maryland Council at facebook.com/RuralMaryland or on Twitter @RuralMaryland.

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