When you think of the Eastern Shore, what comes to mind? Vacations at the beach. Seafood. Corn. Poultry. All of that is still a fundamental part of Shore life, but over the past decade a growing manufacturing base has taken root, a base that holds the potential to improve the economic fortunes of families on the Shore and reduce the feast-or-famine cycles many workers now experience.
Yes, seasonal businesses are still important. Ocean City and other Atlantic destinations produce plentiful summertime jobs. Watermen remain stubbornly dedicated to their lifestyle, despite the continuing problems of fluctuating fortunes in the Chesapeake. Farming is a shrinking mainstay.
And chickens are a vital and growing industry, pumping $1.4 billion into the entire Delmarva Peninsula each year. Maryland produced 285 million broilers last year, valued at $424 million. A whopping 31 percent of Maryland's cash farm income came from these broilers. Huge amounts of corn and soybean are grown on the Shore to feed the chickens. Direct-chicken employment: 21,000, not counting all the support jobs in related businesses. Three of the largest poultry companies in the U.S. are headquartered in Salisbury.
The biggest surprise, though, is the strong growth in other manufacturing companies on the Shore in recent years. Scattered throughout the region are plants and offices where employees take catalog orders over the phone, manufacture French luggage, turn paper into paving material, print children's books, make parts for guns and jet planes and produce retail display furniture.
What businesses have discovered is that the Eastern Shore is a wonderful location for them to work. There is a dedicated and conservative labor force. The weather is mild for the East Coast. Transportation links are quite appealing, and the Shore is ideally situated near major distribution centers along the coast.
Some 30 percent of the Eastern Shore work force is now engaged in manufacturing -- three times greater than the state as a whole. Every 90 days another new business comes to the Shore. This means a broadening employment base that should minimize the shock waves of seasonal industries. It is a positive sign for the region. It shows what friendly, cooperative local development officials can do to lure smaller businesses to Maryland. The Shore is leading the way.