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Community Conversations Visits the Eastern Panhandle

President Tom Barkin and our Community Conversations team recently visited the adjacent regions of western Maryland and eastern West Virginia to learn about the area's workforce development efforts.

The Richmond Fed’s Community Conversations program visited the Eastern Panhandle in mid-July to meet with business and community leaders in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and Hagerstown, Maryland, to learn more about the region’s economic growth and efforts to promote workforce development.

“We had a nice mix of meetings in both areas, which allowed us to get a very good understanding of both locations,” said Andy Bauer, the Bank’s regional executive for Maryland, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia. “We learned a lot about how people work together and about the local economy.”

For the first time since March 2020, when the global health pandemic took hold, Bauer joined Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin onsite to meet with stakeholders, while other planning team members participated virtually. Barkin and Bauer’s visit included a roundtable discussion with West Virginia business and community leaders about the state’s workforce training incentives, such as Ascend WV, which aims to attract remote workers and retain existing workers, and other standard and newly created programs for residents, including support for those who are hoping to re-enter the job market.

The Community Conversations team also learned how leaders in the area are partnering with community and technical colleges to help foster economic mobility. Blue Ridge Community and Technical College and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Region VII are serving as connectors for job seekers, service providers and employers in Berkeley County and in the city of Martinsburg. Additionally, a statewide initiative called West Virginia’s Climb is striving to equip 60% of workers with a certificate or degree by 2030. Another example of these broad efforts is Allegany College of Maryland, a two-year community college that is helping train new workers.

“It was hard to hire locally pre-pandemic,” said Peter Dolkart, Community Development regional manager for Maryland and Greater Washington, D.C. “As conditions improve and more work remains virtual, there may be more of an inclination for workers to stay in these communities.”

Tiffany Hollin-Wright, the Richmond Fed’s Community Development regional manager for Virginia and West Virginia and one of the organizers of the Community Conversations visit, noted that “several business and civic leaders participating in the West Virginia roundtable also serve on the state Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, part of an executive order aiming to enhance economic mobility. By centralizing information and enhancing access to the variety of safety net resources, training and education opportunities, more West Virginians can pursue high demand jobs.”

The Community Conversations team also learned about challenges and opportunities related to housing for low- and middle-income households and how this in turn has impacted workforce recruitment. Interest was also expressed in the Benefits Cliffs initiative that the Richmond Fed is partnering with the Atlanta Fed on to elevate in the Fifth District. Bauer and Hollin-Wright said they are looking forward to sharing more about this program’s resources in future visits to the region.

“This visit gave us connections that didn’t exist before or that weren’t really strong,” Bauer said. “We’re looking forward to further engagement with the individuals and groups we met with on this visit so that we will stay connected to this region of our district.”

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