Con­gres­sional can­di­dates spend time in Ce­cil

Har­ris, Colvin mak­ing fre­quent stops here

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By MAR­CUS DIETERLE, CARL HAMIL­TON & JANE BELLMYER mdi­eterle@ce­cil­whig.com

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

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

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.

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