French luggage. Paper recycled for road paving. Plant barrels. Retail display furniture. Microbrewed beer. Those little hand wipes you get on airplanes after the meal. Children's books. Parts for guns. Wiring for F-14 jets.
And oh, yes -- crabs, chicken and corn.
All of the above are produced on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
"It's incredible what's out there . . . there's an incredible array of products produced and distributed from the Shore," said Jim Gatto, associate director of the Community Financing Group, part of the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. "Most people only think of crabs."
Two decades ago, in the words of one state official, "it was all food." Poultry, agriculture and seafood provided almost all the Eastern Shore's jobs.
Not so now, although agriculture remains a substantial economic force on the Shore.
"Thirty percent of the Shore work force is involved in manufacturing," said J. O. K. Walsh, executive director of Chesapeake Country Economic Development Corp., a five-county regional marketing agency. "The state level is only 8 or 9 percent."
Over the past eight years, the Shore has attracted on average one new business every 90 days. The area has become an attractive site particularly for new, small businesses, say state and local officials. Industrial parks, dedicated workers, weather and proximity to the Eastern Seaboard hubs of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington make the area appealing. Wages are rising, too, state officials say.
"Companies looking at the Shore are not bottom-fishing for wages," Mr. Gatto said. "If they were, they'd be looking at Louisiana or Mexico. Companies looking here are looking for location.
"You've got an economy on the Shore in transition. Things are changing."
That includes agriculture, which employs fewer people now than in recent years -- but on larger farms.
State and local officials say small-business success stories outnumber the high-profile stings, such as Campbell's plan to close its Chestertown plant in the fall, and Chun King's closing in Cambridge last month.
Courting and keeping
From Kent County south to Worcester County, local economic development directors are working with town, county and state officials -- and sometimes overseas representatives, as well -- to court and keep a wide array of businesses.
"We are in the process of trying to broaden and diversify our base over here," Mr. Walsh said. "We have to bring in new industry."
What they want are smaller businesses, not the large companies that dominated Shore industry for so long. Several small companies offer a better buffer against economic ups and downs, particularly the wrenching changes that come when a one-company town loses its company.
"Our philosophy is, if we have a strong industrial base and we have outside dollars coming in, then we'll have a strong economy," said David Ryan, executive director of Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development Inc.
His county -- practically synonymous, in the minds of many, with chickens -- is one that retains its strong agricultural base.
Food-processing still big
"Generally speaking, the food-processing industry continues to be our largest industry," Mr. Ryan said. "It represents about 30 percent of our manufacturing base, and provides a great amount of spinoffs."
Those spinoffs include grain operations, machine shops, refrigeration services, cleaning services -- "the list goes on and on," he said.
But the second largest, and the fastest growing, segment of Wicomico's economy is electronics -- particularly microwave technology.
"This technology is geared toward the telecommunications industry," he said. "We do a lot of defense work here. About nine companies here are involved in some way, shape or form with electronics."
Salisbury Technologies makes wiring used in F-14s and F-15s, ++ he said. Eaton Corp. makes circuit breakers. Relcomm Technologies makes relay switches.
For five years, the county also has been home to Callcenter Services Inc., which provides catalog-ordering services for an astonishing array of businesses. Lord & Taylor, Sharper Image, NationsBank, Playboy, the Red Cross, Smith Barney, Time Warner, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, even the New York Daily News -- all use Callcenter to provide customer service, said Reba Fisher, the company's director of human resources.
"We're an inbound telemarketing firm," she explained. "We service 800 numbers for catalogs." The Salisbury company employs 700 people.
Likewise, none of Salisbury's electronics businesses employs more than 1,000. Some employ only nine or 10; others as many as 800. But the typical business being sought by Shore counties will bring jobs for 50 to 300 workers.
These changes are the way to survive, said Mr. Walsh, the regional marketing agency head.
"Boom and bust, boom and bust -- that's all it ever is," he said of a completely agricultural economy. "That's been the history on the Shore, these cycles of boom and bust. It's paralleled by the seafood industry. . . . The consequences of that are the need to diversify."
Nonetheless, the Shore's agriculture, poultry and seafood industries remain a significant factor in the area's economic health.
Kent leads state in corn
Kent County leads Maryland in corn production, and the next seven counties in the rankings for 1994 are the other seven counties on the Shore. (Cecil County, which spans the head of the Chesapeake, is generally lumped with Harford as a corridor county, rather than considered part of the Eastern Shore.)
Queen Anne's County is the leader for soybeans, with the remaining seven counties in the top nine.
Supporting the grain industry is the poultry industry, said Dr. Henry A. Virts, the state's deputy secretary of agriculture. Corn and soybeans grown on the Shore fed the 285 million broiler chickens raised in 1994. Maryland ranks eighth nationally in broiler production, a whopping $432.6 million worth in 1994, Agriculture Department statistics show.
"The chicken industry does dominate the lower half [of the Shore]," said state statistician M. Bruce West. And even with 450,000 acres of grain corn last year -- commanding prices 50 cents a bushel higher than Midwestern corn -- the state still had to import corn so the chickens didn't go hungry.
But technological innovations have diminished the number of humans needed to grow corn or tend chickens, which means fewer jobs in areas dependent on poultry.
"We've actually had some loss of farmland," Mr. West said. However, losses on the Shore don't compare with those on the Western Shore, he said.
Advance in technology
More relevant on the Eastern Shore, he said, is the advance of technology and increases in farm size.
"When you see a drop in the number of farms, it means they're getting bigger," he said. "Technology has made farming more efficient. It's caused fewer farmers to operate larger tracts of land."
The result: the number of workers employed in agriculture has fallen, although crops have held steady or increased.
The number of people employed by the seafood industry also has declined, but the dynamics are different. Where large farms are dominating agriculture, seafood is going the other way: small, family-owned firms that employ fewer people are replacing the big companies.
"If two go out of business -- say, two companies that employed 100 people each -- you might see 10 new companies that employ four people each," said Bill Sieling, the state's director of seafood marketing.
"The women who used to work in the crab plants -- their husbands are watermen. So they set up a picking house. The husband says, 'You and your sister and your daughter, you all run the plant, and I'll catch the crabs,' " Mr. Sieling explained.
Seafood still accounts for about $100 million a year in the state's economy, he said, and a multiplier used to calculate the total value -- related jobs and sales -- raises the number to about $400 million.
Seafood's importance also can be measured in pounds of oysters, soft clams, finfish and crabs. Last year, the Chesapeake Bay yielded 21.9 million pounds of seafood. The waterways of the Eastern Shore added 23.4 million pounds to that number, said Connie Lewis, fisheries database manager for the state's Department of Natural Resources.
Seafood poundage steady
The poundage of seafood caught in the Chesapeake Bay has been steady over the last five years or so. In 1989, Ms. Lewis said, the harvest was 21.2 million pounds.
But the amount of seafood caught in Eastern Shore waterways has declined significantly over the past five years. In 1989, the harvest was 29 million pounds, 5.6 million pounds more than last year's 23.4 million.
That decline has taken its toll on Eastern Shore employment, too. Mr. Sieling estimated the number of people still working in the seafood industry at about 10,000 in the state, with most of them on the Eastern Shore, down from about 14,000 eight years ago.
Unemployment varies widely
Although wide variations exist from county to county, Worcester and Somerset counties generally show the largest numbers of unemployed on the Eastern Shore.
Both counties are yoked to a seasonal industry, which state officials say affects the numbers: Worcester has tourism (Ocean City) and Somerset has seafood.
In May, the last month for which figures are available, Somerset and Worcester led the area in unemployment. Somerset showed 10.8 percent unemployment; Worcester had 7.5 percent. The other counties all were below 6 percent.
As the Shore continues to move from agriculture to a broader-based economy, state and local officials are hoping that diversification will shield the Shore's workers from the high unemployment of previous years. Diversification also can cushion the impact of plant closures when they occur and blunt the "boom-and-bust" of agriculture.
The area's continuing diversification -- adding manufacturing and products to what is already a large list -- depends on outside economic factors, the availability of local and state money to attract new business and the efforts of individual counties.
Two companies, both international, that chose the Eastern Shore over other sites said that state and local willingness to help with building leases, tax breaks and land searches helped them decide.
"Why Caroline County? Because Caroline County offered to Delsey some financial plans," said Didier Godbille, vice president for manufacturing at the Delsey plant in Denton. Delsey, a French-owned company, is the world's second-largest luggage maker, with plants in Portugal, Italy, France -- and Caroline County, where 145 people make suitcases for travelers all over the globe.
Willingness to work
Similarly, CFF Corp. in Chestertown chose Kent County because local officials were interested and cooperative. "People showed a willingness to work with us," said Beatrice R. Bowman, CFF vice president.
The CFF plant, which employs about 16 people and hopes to grow to 67 over the next five years, uses a process created in Germany to turn recycled paper into an ingredient for road paving. Part of Interstate 97 in Anne Arundel County was paved using that process.
In addition to the financial assistance, eagerness and state and local help described by CFF and Delsey, one more element is important in attracting business: luck.
"Economic development is being at the right place at the right time," said Warren Rosenthal, director of Worcester County's Economic Development Department.
THE EASTERN SHORE'S CHANGING ECONOMY
Agriculture and seafood are still sunstantive economic forces on the Eastern Shore, but nearly a third of all workers there are in manufacturing jobs -- and the number is growing. Here's a look, VTC county by county.
* CAROLINE COUNTY
558 businesses employ 6,224 workers. Manufacturing accounts for about 21 percent of the county's employment. Delsey has its only American luggage plant in Denton, and other major employers include Preston Trucking and Maryland Plastics.
* DORCHESTER COUNTY
38 percent of the county's 9,466 workers are involved in manufacturing. The county has had bad news recently, with Chun King closing its Cambridge plant last month. But the county's 726 businesses include two Airpax plants owned by North American Philips; Western Publishing, which produces the Golden Books children's series; and Brooks Barrel Co., the only barrel plant in the country.
* KENT COUNTY
Two major employers closed in the last two years, and a third, the last Campbell's plant in Maryland, will close in September. But 641 businesses remain, with 30.4 percent of the 5,546 workers in manufacturing. CFF is in Kent County, as well as Dixon Valve & Coupling and Wisco Envelope.
* QUEEN ANNE'S COUNTY
Services and retail are the fastest growing segment of the local economy, with outlets -- mostly along U.S. 50 -- dominating. Chesapeake Village Outlet Center is doing well; the Kent Narrows mall is struggling. Only 8 percent of the county's 6,297 workers are engaged in manufacturing, primarily food processing and printing. Major employers among the county's 892 businesses, state statistics show, include Tidewater Publishing, United Shellfish and Delmarva Sash & Door Inc.
* SOMERSET COUNTY
374 businesses employ about 2,660 workers, 31.5 percent in manufacturing. Only three businesses employ more than 100 people. Major companies include Carvel Hall, which makes cutlery, Perdue, which has a chicken hatchery there, and Rubberset Company, which makes paintbrushes.
* TALBOT COUNTY
Tourism is important, particularly in St. Michael's. 1,207 businesses employing about 14,532 people, 19 percent in manufacturing. Large employers in the county include Black & Decker and Allen Family Foods.
* WICOMICO COUNTY
Food processing represents about 30 percent of the manufacturing base. But a substantial portion of 7,000 manufacturing jobs are in electronics, specifically microwave technologies. 2,307 businesses in Wicomico employ 31,523 workers. Of those, 28 percent are in manufacturing. Other large employers are Peninsula Regional Medical Center, Dresser Industries, which makes gas pump components, and Perdue Farms.
* WORCESTER COUNTY
Tourism is a mixed blessing for Ocean City. During the summer, Ocean City becomes the second-largest city in Maryland, with as many as 350,000 visitors on some weekends looking for sun, fun and all they can eat. The county has 1,880 businesses, employing 15,111 workers. Of those, 10 percent are involved in manufacturing. Like other counties, Worcester has lost some large plants. Campbell closed its Pocomoke City plant in 1990, and Moore Business Forms in Snow Hill closed in November. Two large poultry plants operate: Perdue and Hudson Foods.