Congressional candidates spend time in Cecil
Harris, Colvin making frequent stops here
CECIL COUNTY — Inside one of the growing rooms at Warwick Mushroom Farms, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-1st District) examined one of the rows of towering shelves that hold mushrooms in the middle of their growth.
The county’s congressman visited War wick Mushroom Farms, one of the nation’s largest marketers of speciality mushrooms, on Thursday, Oct. 11, while touring Cecil County to discuss tax reform and the opioid epidemic with businesses and government departments in the county. The Republican incumbent wasn’t the only one making stops in the county as the 2018 winds down to its last weeks, however, as his Democratic opponent Jesse Colvin spent an entire day last week meeting with constituents and officials. Room to grow
Jack Reitnauer, farm manager of Warwick Mushroom Farms, explained to Harris on Thursday that the farm grows approximately 13 million mushrooms per week, yielding a weekly average of between 650,000 to 660,000 pounds of mushrooms. The farm employs 271 people, but Reitnauer said they still deal with a need for workers.
“Labor’s my biggest concern,” he said.
According to Reitnauer, the majority of the farm’s workers have come to the U.S. from Guatemala.
Vanessa Torres, an employee at Warwick
Mushroom Farms, explained many of those workers fled issues in their home country and have sought asylum in America.
“They come from Guatemala, most of them, and what happens is they come through Mexico, they arrive at the border with the U.S. and they pretty much turn themselves in like asylum seekers,” she said.
Torres said it is her impression that most workers who seek asylum are granted it after their hearing, and that gaining asylum is easier for those who come with children.
Reitnauer said Warwick Mushroom Farms still needs to attract more workers to keep up with their har vest.
“We have the ability to build a dormitory … If it snows, they close the roads here. I need people here. We would lose probably $120,000 a day and take at least a week and a half to catch up,” he said.
Some employers qualify to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to fill temporary agricultural jobs through the H-2A program. However, Reitnauer said Warwick Mushrooms is not eligible for the H-2A program because they employ permanent workers.
Reitnauer said the company has called on U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to look at the current H-2A regulations.
Harris was surprised to hear that a company like Warwick Mushroom Farms would not qualify for the H-2A program. He said he would like to see the economy continue to grow and that “anything I can do to help is what I’m there to do.”
“Here’s a company that’s a world leader in its field and one of the issues is they want to expand … If we have to change some immigration laws or visa laws, we should do it,” Harris said. “For example, at a plant like this, there is little reason why we can’t change the law to allow temporary works to come in for a time when they have a manpower need in these facilities.”
According to Harris, the desire to “grow the economy” has been a dominant theme in his conversations with constituents.
“They want America to be strong and have a presence in the world, but then at home, they want to make sure the economy keeps going, our unemployment rate keeps going down, and our family income keeps going up,” he said.
Building a better economy
Infrastructure and employees is what U.S. Rep. Andy Harris learned Thursday was what Martin Marietta needs most.
Meeting with company officials Harris heard that the 600-acre quarry on Stevenson Road is busy 12 hours per day all year long providing various types of gravel mined from the granite deposits.
“We probably have 30 to 40 years of granite,” Max Pfaff, area manager, told the congressman. “We drill, blast and load it up to the jaw crusher.”
The four-stage process results in sizes used for everything from paving roads to preventing erosion. He said even the smallest pieces are used.
David Thomey, director of public affairs for Martin Marietta, thanked Harris for his help in getting certain regulations relaxed, which have helped the company.
“And the tax relief is a huge issue,” he said, noting that will help the quarry be able to invest in new equipment, including a belt press to extract water from the smallest gravel.
“It will press the smallest aggregate into cakes,” Pfaff said, adding those can then be introduced into crusher run.
Harris told the men that a plan from the White House to use federal money to leverage state and private funding will be the future of business in the country. He said as the economy continues to improve people will feel more comfortable with home buying, which will also help industries like Martin Marietta.
“There has been no new house construction; at least not where we thought it was,” Thomey noted.
Harris agreed, but assured Thomey there would be a turnaround.
At the same time, Pfaff said he struggles to find the right employees when he has an opening. Harris agreed but added that the Departments of Labor and Education are working on that too.
“They are very interested in an apprentice program,” he said. “It would be a way to solve a lot of the employment problems.”
Cecil County employers report having problems hiring for technical and warehouse positions as well as construction trades.
“There are barriers. A lot of these programs have to be union run,” Harris said. “They believe it should be much easier to open an apprentice program.”
“If there’s an educational opportunity let’s go, let’s get it done,” Harris said.
Capacity to heal
On Thursday morning, Harris focused his attention on Cecil County’s opioid problem when he met with local leaders and others associated with law enforcement, the health department, Union Hospital and mental health counseling
Ray Lynn, who is Cecil County’s heroin coordinator, gave a PowerPoint presentation concerning fatal and non-fatal overdoses here and the offshoot problems created by those overdoses and by opioid addiction in general.
Harris reportedly requested a copy of Lynn’s presentation after the meeting, which was not on a schedule disseminated to media.
As of Thursday, 517 heroin overdoses had been reported in Cecil County since Jan. 1 — and 48 of them were fatal. As of the same day in 2017, there were 432 total reported heroin overdoses — 85 fewer than recorded thus far this year. And 58 of them resulted in death, 10 more than has been recorded thus far in 2018.
“I think it was an eyeopener for him as to what is going on in Cecil County and all the facets of society drug abuse affects and its impact on children (of drug abusers),” Lynn said. “He seemed very receptive. I think he was shown the problem in more detail than he had ever seen before. I hope it will reflect in his decisions on Capitol Hill. I believe he will think of Cecil County when voting on bills relating to opioids.”
Sheriff Scott Adams suggested that federal grant funding earmarked to battle the opioid crisis would be more effective if it went directly to the counties instead of going through the state, which then doles out the money.
“The counties would get all the federal grant money. That way it wouldn’t be eaten up by the bureaucratic process,” Adams said, adding that grant money should benefit prevention, enforcement and treatment. “All three tiers are important, but my heart is on the front end. I think that prevention should be continuous.”
On Thursday afternoon, Harris reflected on his opioid meeting while visiting North East officials.
“We got into an in-depth discussion of the opioid crisis,” Harris commented.
Harris said he learned that, while heroin overdose deaths in Cecil County have declined from Jan. 1 through Oct. 11 in 2017 compared to the same timeframe from this year, “the number of ODs on fentanyl is up.”
A fresh start
Health care, agriculture, bipartisanship and independence from corporate money were dominant topics when Colvin, the Democrat challenging Harris for the First Congressional District seat, visited Cecil County for a town hall Oct. 6.
Sam Schneider, a spokesman for the Colvin campaign, said the town hall is representative of Colvin’s commitment to listening to the district’s residents.
Despite Harris’s visits around Cecil County and the rest of the district this election season, Schneider said some constituents want a representative who is more present in their communities and willing to hold town halls to gather feedback. Schneider offered that Colvin could be that candidate.
“People find it really refreshing and exciting that Jesse is the kind of candidate and therefore likely the kind of representative who actually is going to show up in their communities on the ground and hold a town hall like that,” he said.
A common theme Schneider has seen among all of the town halls has been the need for more accessible health care.
“You hear a lot of people talk about affordability and quality care, which are both very key, but you don’t hear as much in the national dialogue around health care a focus on access,” Schneider said. “In rural communities like ours, that really is key.”
Schneider said the opioid crisis is one topic that particularly dominated the conversation at the Cecil County town hall — an issue that he said Colvin will prioritize if elected.
“He says often if there’s one thing he can do in his first month of office, it’s help get funding back to the states and the counties for the opioids fight,” he said.
Schneider pointed to Colvin’s stance against taking money from corporate PACs, particularly from the pharmaceutical industry, as evidence for his dedication to solving the opioid issue.
Colvin has also prioritized improving the economic landscape workers, Schneider.
“It’s a source of jobs, it’s the backbone of many local economies and it’s a way of life that goes back generations and generations,” he said. “I think a lot of people in agriculture communities are feeling the pains and the consequences of the reckless trade war that Congress has sat by and watched get worse and worse.”
That trade war has affected soybean and dairy farmers in particular, Schneider said.
According to Schneider, Colvin has pushed for less congressional intervention when it comes to agricultural communities and local businesses.
“They can take care of themselves and do well when Congress doesn’t get in their way and doesn’t rock the boat. But when Congress let’s politics lead and does rock the boat, that’s when they bare the brunt of that,” he said.
Schneider said Cecil County is “a great place to raise a family, but young people need a reason to stay.” The lack of young workers entering the agricultural community is something that Schneider believes isn’t discussed enough.
“You have this massive gap of new entrants into farming and into agriculture under the age of 35,” he said. “You have this massive age gap and it’s really concerning about what is the future of these communities of this industry going to look like if no young folks are going into it and no young folks see it as a viable future for themselves? We have to figure out how to make it viable for them.”
The Colvin campaign has led with the idea of “Country over party,” but Schneider said that value of bipartisanship is much more than a slogan.
“It represents both an approach to representation and to problem solving that Jesse takes, but it also reflects what he thinks and what we all think the country needs most right now,” he said. for agricultural according to
U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, right, talks about the improving economy and what that will mean for business and industry including Martin Marietta’s quarry on 600 acres near North East.