BERLIN — In what was billed as a celebration of economic growth, Gov. Martin O’Malley visited Berlin last Friday to tour a pair of new operations in town.
O’Malley’s first stop was an early morning ribbon cutting for the town’s new Visitors Center. Located on Main Street, the center occupies what was years ago a post office and will now be used to promote “the local economy, history, and the arts”, according to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).
In order to make the center a reality, the DHCD Community Legacy Program awarded the town $125,000 for renovation and construction of the building. Mayor Gee Williams, who also attended the ribbon cutting, pointed to the center as proof that Berlin was keeping its head above water when many other towns were drowning under the recession.
“We asked you to come,” he told O’Malley, “not to hear a problem, but to see results.”
Williams called last Friday a “truly exciting day for us in Berlin” and O’Malley was quick to agree.
“It’s so clear in a town when you’re making progress,” he said.
Berlin Chamber of Commerce President Tanja Giles explained to O’Malley that the new visitor center will help further the chamber’s motto of “connect, support, grow,” by providing information about the town and its businesses to visitors.
Shortly after the ribbon cutting, O’Malley headed to the nearby by Burley Oak Brewery. The brewery has also benefited from state funding, this time in the form of a $10,000 grant from Berlin’s Façade Program, which was funded by DHCD. Not to be out done by a ribbon cutting, brewery owner Bryan Brushmiller invited O’Malley, Williams and other state and community representatives in for a tour of his building, followed by a toast.
The toast was lighthearted, with Williams pointing out that, though the town’s name has more than a few pronunciations, on that day it was definitely “Beerlin.”
“There are not many people who could get me to knock back a beer at 10 a.m.,” joked O’Malley.
Though O’Malley got a sneak peek behind the scenes, an official opening date for the brewery hasn’t been decided yet, though Brushmiller expects to be open to the public within the next week or two.
Brushmiller gave credit for getting the ball rolling on his brewery to both O’Malley and the state and even more so to Williams and the rest of the town.
“It all starts with the town of Berlin,” he said.
According to Brushmiller, the question town officials keep asking him is, “how can we help you make things happen?” But it’s not just his brewery that generates buzz amongst the Mayor and Council, said Brushmiller. He believes that Berlin is incredibly friendly and accommodating to all small businesses.
“I think they’re excited about business,” he said.
It’s an attitude that Brushmiller agrees with, and one he predicts will lead to further growth. He noted that his brewery will have five employees, some of which were unemployed previously, at its opening. However, he’s hoping to employ between 15 and 20 people within the next three years.
“Small business makes jobs … there’s a direct correlation between small business and job creation,” said Brushmiller.
Beyond those that he employs directly, Brushmiller plans on doing most of his business locally, including buying ingredients from local farmers. It’s a practice that he hopes will send out positive ripples into the community and indirectly create more jobs in other fields.
“It’s putting money back into the local economy,” he said.
“All of these people can grow with me,” said Brushmiller.
After the two visits, O’Malley told Williams that he was impressed with everything he saw in Berlin.
“The town of Berlin exemplifies the economic progress of Maryland’s historic Main Streets,” he said. “Despite a difficult economy, the Berlin community didn’t waver from its strategy and its goal of growing small business and creating jobs.”
O’Malley pointed out that both the visitor center and the brewery will be job generators while attracting more people to the historic town.
“We are going to grow,” he said.
As far as jobs go, O’Malley revealed that the state of Maryland generated 8,000 net new jobs in the month of July, a pattern he hopes to continue.
“We need to do that every month,” said O’Malley
DHCD Secretary Raymond Skinner, who accompanied O’Malley on his visit to Berlin, noted how well the Main Street Maryland (MSM) program was working for the town. Berlin has been a member of MSM since 2008 and won a number of awards from the organization in a variety of categories, including this year’s award for excellence which was given to “Grow Berlin Green,” the town’s environmental outreach program. Over the last three years, MSM has invested close to $1.6 million towards revitalization projects in Berlin.
But, according to the DHCD, MSM brings more to the table than direct aid. By highlighting its connection to MSM, Berlin has been able to leverage more than $492,000 in private investment and about $69,000 in public improvement funds, with 30 new businesses being created since 2008.
“The Main Street Maryland program is a proven economic development strategy which allows the State to partner with local governments in promoting public and private investment and encouraging revitalization,” said Skinner. “By working together, these communities become vibrant centers of which residents can be proud and to which tourists travel for leisure.”