Since taking office in 2015, our administration has charted a new course, one guided by simple, common sense principles. Our focus has been on creating jobs, assisting Maryland’s families and restoring our economy.
As Maryland continues to recover from the unprecedented crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we remain focused on creating greater economic opportunity for all in our state, including Marylanders in Appalachian counties.
We understand the unique challenges of economic development and job creation in Appalachian Maryland, but we also see unique opportunities. The grit and determination of the people, the rich natural resources, and the strong cultural heritage all provide a strong foundation for success.
We are particularly focused on new approaches to remove barriers, leverage partnerships, and expand critical infrastructure to meet the needs of the 21st century for economic growth, job creation, and education throughout the region. During a time of unique challenges, we are utilizing partnerships and innovation to change the narrative and make a difference.
There are currently 12 federally-designated Opportunity Zones in Appalachian Maryland. Opportunity Zones are a community investment tool that encourages long-term investment in low income urban and rural communities. Maryland has expanded the initiative with additional tax credits and incentive programs to bring jobs and businesses to these designated zones.
A skilled workforce is essential to attracting private sector investment. One of our top priorities is the development of a highly competent and well-educated workforce. Our administration has provided a blueprint for an effective and efficient workforce system across the state, focused on collaboration among state agencies, effectively leveraging resources, and providing opportunity for all jobseekers, including a new generation of workers through education and apprenticeships.
To further bolster workforce development in the region, we funded a new focus area at Frostburg State University, which established an Office of Regional Development and Engagement. The new office integrates university resources with regional partners in Appalachian Maryland to meet the challenges of economic and community development while creating jobs and apprenticeships.
Our higher education institutions continue to focus on the importance of technology and have worked with state and local governments to meet the educational needs of a 21st century workforce. Colleges are sharing this infrastructure with K-12 schools to create greater opportunities for advanced learning, including the formation of magnet schools, active learning labs, and STEM and robotics programming.
We are also turning challenges into opportunities with support for asset-based development around outdoor recreation opportunities across the region. Appalachian Maryland offers four seasons of family-friendly activities including skiing, boating, biking, fishing, and hiking. We have seen growth and development of tourism-related businesses with a positive impact from recreational, historical, and heritage attractions, and we will continue to support these important initiatives.
Infrastructure is fundamental to our economy, environment, and way of life. Maryland is focused on addressing infrastructure needs across our entire state with an appreciation of the unique needs and challenges of Appalachian Maryland. Innovation and collaboration will bring the best ideas and solutions to meet these needs.
We joined forces with local partners on the Western Maryland fiber project, and we continue to work together to expand broadband across our entire state. We are investing in local water and sewer systems to improve systems and also increase capacity to sustain commercial and industrial development along the I-68 corridor in Appalachian Maryland. And of course, our focus on infrastructure includes transportation improvements across the region.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we remained committed to combating the opioid and substance use disorder crisis, which has affected far too many families and taken far too many lives. We have brought together state and local partners to support prevention, treatment, and enforcement efforts combating the heroin and opioid crisis across our state, and will continue to focus on this too-often unseen epidemic.
We understand the need to fill the gaps of the full recovery ecosystem — clinical care, access to employment, housing, and transportation — knowing all are essential to empower those struggling with a substance use disorder. We are pleased to join with partners in the public and private sector to invest in projects supporting recovery and workforce development.
We support the mission of the Appalachian Regional Commission to innovate, partner, and invest. We continue to work with local leaders, strengthen partnerships, and target resources to capitalize on the opportunity of the Appalachian region to bring jobs, aid struggling Maryland families, and restore our economy.