What do these items have in common: Chickens, luggage, crabs, plant barrels, corn, hand wipes, F-14 wiring and surf-and-sand?
All are job-creating industries on Maryland's Eastern Shore. But the trend now is toward manufacturing jobs, a growth industry that could transform an economy highly dependent on seasonal activities.
Who would have suspected 10 years ago that a French luggage manufacturer would locate its only American plant in Denton?
Or that 700 workers in Salisbury would be operating a huge catalog-ordering telephone service for banks, department stores and magazines?
Or that the only barrel plant in the country would be in Dorchester County?
What businesses are discovering is that the Eastern Shore, with its down-home southern charm and dedicated work force, is an ideal location. It is served by an excellent transportation network and is centrally located for quick delivery to the huge population centers up and down the Atlantic Coast, and into the Ohio Valley and the Middle West.
A new company is opening up shop on the Shore every 90 days. These are small or mid-sized enterprises, not mega-employment plants. But they are providing the region with something is dearly needs: stability.
In the past, the Eastern Shore's economy has been at the mercy of the weather. If it is too hot or too cold, the crops suffer. If it rains too much or too little, the watermen's harvests falter. Then there are the biological problems: The poultry industry can be devastated by an avian flu outbreak. Shellfish and fish are vulnerable to a number of waterborne diseases.
Poultry still represents a major investment, especially in the Salisbury area, where three of the nation's biggest chicken companies have their headquarters. Maryland broilers produce $424 million in value for the economy, or 31 percent of the cash farm income for the state. Much of the nearby corn and soybean production is directly tied to feeding chickens.
But other non-food manufacturers are becoming increasingly important. Overall manufacturing represents 30 percent of the Shore's work force, or three times the average for the entire state. That's good news. If the trend continues, there should be better days ahead for the hard-working residents of Maryland's proud Eastern Shore.