Salisbury Rising: Downtown optimism is highest in 30 years

Dr. Memo Diriker.

There are lots of people in the Salisbury economic arena who can see what’s going on. A few of these people even understand what makes the area tick business-wise.

There is only one figure who can see, understand and actually explain it all: Dr. Memo Diriker.

Dubbed the “Business Guru of the Shore,” Diriker is the founding director of the Business, Economic and Community Outreach Network, known by its appropriate acronym, BEACON — the premier business and economic research, and consulting unit of the Franklin P. Perdue School of Business.

For this week’s edition that includes the special section “Salisbury Rising,” I asked Diriker to explain where our local economy stands and where it’s going.

Q: How are local business conditions?

A: The local business conditions in the Salisbury-Wicomico market are generally well (but not as well as elsewhere in the state) and trending gently up (but not as much as in other parts of the state). As always, some sectors are doing better than others and some sectors are beginning to send some very early cautionary signals about a possible slowdown.

Q: Downtown seems to have a lot of new activity. True?

A: There is definitely a renewed level of energy Downtown. The level of business activity and the optimism is the highest in over 30 years. If the trend continues and if it can survive an inevitable economy-wide slowdown sometime in the future, we can expect great things from downtown Salisbury.  

Q: Our Industrial Park is fully rented. Hearing a shortage of warehouse space. True?

A: In the current economic environment, it is difficult for investors to put up structures on a totally speculative basis. The Catch 22 here is that prospects need what they need now but building the same takes time. What is left in the market does not always match what these prospects might be searching. This is a good news/bad news scenario for us.

Q: Local governments seem to be finally recovered from Great Recession. Wicomico even cut taxes this year. Thoughts?

A: While there is ample reason to feel good about the status quo, the inescapable reality is that due to self-imposed constraints, our Wicomico County has some long-term fiscal weaknesses. The ability to address major natural or policy disruptions and the ability to deal with growing number of deferred expenditures is not clear in my mind.

Q: We hear business people talking about many available jobs. Are we essentially at a full employment stage?

A: This is another good news/bad news situation. The number of people employed has reached a very healthy level. Compensation levels on the other hand are still where we would like them to be. In addition, the mismatch between the skill sets of the unemployed and underemployed residents and the skill sets the employers are seeking continues to be a problem. The opioid addiction crisis is exacerbating this issue.

Q: Salisbury seems to have some good economic momentum. Can we keep riding the tide?

A: As always, we are economically linked to what happens in the state and in the nation. Any major disruption in either of those economies will inevitably impact us here in Salisbury. We have been working on improving our resiliency but we still have a ways to go. We know that, historically, Salisbury gets hit harder than the state and the nation and takes longer to recover. At a minimum, we should focus on reducing the magnitude of such a future impact and speeding up our recovery time.


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