The unemployment rates in six of the nine counties on Maryland's Eastern Shore are above the state average. In three of those counties - Worcester, Dorchester and Somerset - the jobless rates are double the state average.
The average disposable incomes of the nine counties are less than the state average, and 34 percent of the workers travel outside the region to their jobs.
To address those problems, a 35-member task force, composed of city, county and state officials, along with business leaders and educators, has come up with a series of recommendations to bring new industry and jobs to the region.
Their suggestions, contained in a 70-page report, are to be passed on to Gov. Parris N. Glendening within the next two to three weeks, William Ecker, chairman of the study group, said yesterday.
The governor appointed the task force in December, and the group put the finishing touches on its report during a meeting Thursday at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills.
"This is going to be a powerful, powerful report," said Ecker, a former Caroline County superintendent of schools.
He said the report draws the region together into a single unit that can accomplish much more "by working together and pooling funds and resources."
Ecker said the task force addressed more than 100 issues, but limited its recommendations to six, which he classified as "extremely important." They are:
Assist the agriculture and seafood industries with funding to be used in product promotion and marketing. Help organize producer cooperatives.
Create an adequate and dependable public water supply and effective sewer systems.
Promote the development and secure funding for an integrated regional public transportation system for the entire Eastern Shore and Delmarva.
In addition, the Maryland Mass Transit Administration should explore transit links between Eastern Shore cities and Baltimore, Washington, Annapolis, Wilmington and Philadelphia.
Create a high-tech infrastructure, including a high-speed fiber-optic network, to meet current and future needs and assist in luring technology-based companies to the region.
Conduct a study to determine work force needs and establish adult training programs to supply skilled workers.
Create a short-term action team to implement action derived from the study until a permanent regional economic development organization is in place.
The report noted that economic development on the Eastern Shore has been deterred by inadequate water and sewer facilities for not only businesses, but for the homes and communities of their employees.
"Lack of adequate systems and substandard systems affect the health of area residents as well as impact the integrity of the surrounding environment," the report said.
Durrie Hayes, Talbot County economic development director, said the lack of adequate transportation, housing and a shortage of fiber-optics make it hard for the region to compete with other parts of the state in attracting new industry.
Hayes said Black & Decker Corp. has to truck workers from Anne Arundel County and Wilmington, Del., to meet the employment needs of its assembly plant in Easton.
He said that if the recommendations of the task force "are addressed and strategies are implement - which is not going to happen overnight - I think it will level the playing field with the rest of the state.
"If it's acted upon, it will be a huge asset for the Eastern Shore, not just for the businesses, but for our kids. It would create good jobs for our kids, they won't have to leave the area when they get out of school."
Bradley H. Powers, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture and an adviser to the task force, said that agriculture, including seafood, is the largest industry on the Eastern Shore. "It is critical that the state acknowledge this and include it in its economic development program," he said.