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Eastern Shore focused on highlighting economic diversity

Economic officials across the Eastern Shore region of Maryland are intent on showing that the region is more than agriculture and beach tourism. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

In the minds of many Marylanders, agriculture and beach tourism comprise the Eastern Shore’s only economic pillars.

As that region continues to recover from the economic losses stemming from the pandemic, there’s a growing desire to show the Eastern Shore’s marketplace is more complex than cool waves and tasty fried chicken.

“Historically, and throughout the pandemic, and to this day, one of our strongest [economic] assets … is the diversity of our economic base,” David Ryan, executive director of the Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development Corporation, said.

Businesses on the Eastern Shore include roughly 100 manufacturing firms in Wicomico County alone. The shore’s roster of companies also has various tech companies working in fields that run the gamut from hatcheries to aeronautics.

The shore’s economy also includes a robust “eds and meds” component that’s provided a stabilizing factor amid the economic uncertainties.

Those institutions include the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore and Salisbury University. TidalHealth, a growing health care system that operates medical facilities throughout the Eastern Shore, provides the medical side of the equation.

Not that shore jurisdictions don’t embrace their heritage as an agricultural center.

Perdue Farms, after all, remains a significant employer and arguably the area’s best-known business. Wicomico County, the Delmarva Peninsula’s economic hub, is Maryland’s top agricultural producer in terms of products sold.

“We’re not shy about it, but the economy has more breadth and depth than what people think,” Ryan said.

While some on the Eastern Shore highlight the area’s economic diversity, others said their focus remains on their traditional sectors.

In Ocean City, that means maintaining the town’s standing as the region’s favorite beach escape.

Glenn Irwin, executive director of the Ocean City Development Corporation, which focuses on revitalizing the older sections of town south of 17th Street, doesn’t see that mission changing, even as the pandemic drags on.

“Historically, our area of Ocean City has, and will, continue to have a lot of hotels, motels, and restaurants … and I think that will continue with a strong tourist economy,” Irwin said.

After the disastrous 2019 beach season, Irwin said, business leaders sighed in relief after a reasonably regular tourism season in 2020.

To preserve that success, the Ocean City Development Corporation is busy backing development proposals the organization believes ensure solid beach seasons during and after the pandemic.

The most buzzed-about project in the resort town proposes transforming the old Phillips Beach Plaza Hotel site into a 13-story, 265-room Margaritaville resort with 20,000 square feet of retail along the boardwalk.

Irwin believes that type of investment will remain at the center of Ocean City’s tourism-based economy. But that doesn’t mean COVID-19 hasn’t created lasting changes in the beach town’s development priorities.

The struggles of the past few years to hire and retain seasonal workers revealed the need to emphasize making the area livable for those workers.

“Seasonal workforce housing is so important to Ocean City, and I think we realized that this past year. You may see more of that come online as Ocean City realizes it must partner (with developers) to provide more workforce housing,” Irwin said.

This article is featured in The Daily Record's Doing Business in Maryland 2022 that was inserted in the Thursday, December 30, 2021 issue of The Daily Record.

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