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Transportation, tourism, jobs are region's focus

July 25, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - School safety, local tourism resources and such long-range transportation needs as expanded air and rail travel will be some of the top issues during the Quad State Conference here tomorrow.

The conference was started 14 years ago to bring together lawmakers from West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia to assess the region's needs.

Because communities along the Interstate 81 corridor share many of the same issues and resources, conference organizers believe it is important to come together annually to plan for the future of the region.

The area's historical resources have been a big attraction for tourists, and conference organizers want to explore ways to expand those efforts.

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It is important to find ways to keep tourists in the region for longer periods of time, thereby generating increased revenue, said Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington. And with growing attractions like Prime Outlets at Hagerstown, it should be easier to convince visitors to expand their stays in the area by a day or two, Munson said.

"(They) come here, spend their money and leave their taxes behind," he said Friday.

Interest in the Civil War continues to increase, and the region has a "golden opportunity" to expand its tourism business with such attractions as Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Antietam National Battlefield and Gettysburg National Battlefield, said Munson, one of the organizers of Quad State.

There needs to be focus, too, on such "nitty gritty" issues as effective signs to direct tourists to local attractions and ensuring there is plenty of parking, he said. "If you can't park, you don't stop," he said.

Munson said he also wants to focus on ways to attract high-paying jobs to the region. The area is making progress on that front through the planned University System of Maryland, Hagerstown Center, a local branch of the University of Maryland that is planned for one of two potential sites here.

If the county wants to attract high-tech companies, it needs to have higher education facilities where workers can expand their education, he said.

Del. Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley, said the different jobs developing in the workplace are growing rapidly, and the region needs to be on top of the trend with proper job training,

Bell Atlantic will give a presentation on a new two-way video communication system, which West Virginia is considering using in its jail system. The video system, which allows parties to see and communicate with each other, would allow inmates to participate in court hearings without having to be transported to courthouses for the hearings, Douglas said.

Although the system is being considered for the correctional system, it could be used to expand medical services to rural clinics or deliver educational programs across the state, she said.

"That translates to a lot of possibilities," she said.

The growing region also needs to stay on top of such transportation needs as continued efforts to widen Interstate 81 to six lanes, Munson and Douglas said.

The region needs to concentrate on expanding air and rail travel, Douglas said. One of the issues to be discussed will be extending the MARC train service from Harpers Ferry to Hancock, Munson said.

Lawmakers will also trade ideas on what their states have done to curb school violence.

The conference will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg.

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