WYE MILLS — U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) discussed technical jobs training, rural public transportation and the Mid-Shore implications of international trade tensions during a meeting at Chesapeake College on Wednesday, Aug. 21.
Cardin’s roundtable meeting was attended by Chesapeake College President Cliff Coppersmith, Upper Shore Workforce Investment Board Executive Director Dan McDermott, and several educational, business and community leaders from the five Mid-Shore counties.
During the meeting, the senator fielded the Mid-Shore stakeholders’ questions regarding the state of technical jobs training in rural Maryland — offering plans of action and reassuring them their concerns are constantly being addressed at the federal level.
Cardin acknowledged that the Mid-Shore, as a collectively rural region of Maryland, doesn’t have a “deep bench” as far as funding and staffing go for education and technical jobs training.
He said that’s one of the shortcomings he’s trying to fix by ironing out federal education funding inequities across Maryland.
Referring to the Perkins V, or the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, Cardin admitted rural Maryland counties aren’t allocated as many of the program’s resources as urban counties, such as Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Perkins V was designed to improve and increase career and technical education opportunities across the United States by making federal funds accessible to qualifying institutions.
Dan Lessard, assistant vice president of human resources at The Dixon Group Inc. in Kent County, said at the meeting that the issue he has with the Perkins V grants is the requirements they have to meet in order to continue receiving them.
“What we struggle with, as a system, is we don’t have the manpower or the staffing that Montgomery County or P.G. County has, yet we have all of the same requirements,” Lessard said. “Often we’re working as a staff of one to meet all of the same requirements in terms of accountability measures that [larger counties] have the staff of multiple individuals to meet.”
Cardin responded to Lessard’s concerns, saying, “We are interested in getting programs working more efficiently.”
He said that he understands the rural component and the staffing disparities among Maryland education and workforce regions.
Cardin also commented on the availability of public transportation on the Eastern Shore, which he said could help solve the personnel shortage issue if improved.
It’s a challenge to get students and educators from the surrounding counties to Chesapeake College because they’re so widespread, Cardin noted.
“If you want to be a full-time student here, it’s very, very challenging if you have anything you want to do other than being on a bus half the time and half the time here, particularly if you come from a place pretty far away from here, which a lot of your students do,” he said. “So, transportation needs are incredibly important.”
Cardin said that he and his colleagues at the federal level understand the difference in the transportation needs of rural Maryland versus those in urban areas of the state.
“We recognize there are different needs in different communities,” he said. “So, no, you’re not going to have a rapid rail transit system here on the Eastern Shore. Your bus system here is a challenge, [but] there are ways that we can help here.”
As the ranking Democrat on the Transportation Committee, Cardin said he is working toward increasing federal funding for transportation by 10%.
“There’s a bipartisan recognition that we have to do a lot more in the federal partnership on transportation,” he said. “We have to figure out how we’re going to pay for it, but there are both Democrats and Republicans coming up with responsible funding for transportation. So, we recognize we have a responsibility to do this.”
As for international trade’s effects on Mid-Shore businesses and educational institutions, Cardin cited a recent report that said the tariffs President Donald Trump imposed on Chinese products will cost the average U.S. family roughly $1,000 per year.
“It’s not inconsequential,” Cardin said. “It’s a significant amount of additional costs, and it has an impact on average families.”
Local business representatives explained how the trade war with China has increased wait times for their overseas orders, as well as the amount they’re being taxed for Chinese items.
“The businesses that are most affected by this are small companies, and, you talk about job opportunities here, it’s going to change the landscape,” Cardin said. “The trade issues are clearly a driver toward hurting our economy. Make no mistake about that. You won’t find any economist who will disagree with that statement. Tariffs make us all pay more and get less. The trade war is not helpful to anyone.”
Cardin ended the meeting, saying “We will absolutely follow through on a lot of the suggestions you’re making on coordination, input and working with all of the stakeholders.”
The senator said he would continue working with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-1st District) to improve existing programs and introduce solutions to workforce development on the Mid-Shore.