Salisbury Rising: SWED leadership optimistic on progress, growth


If there’s one word for Dave Ryan’s outlook on the county’s economic development it’s “optimistic.”

“Absolutely. Absolutely I am. This is a terrific time. We’re seeing employment growth in a very large way,” said Ryan, executive director of the Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development Inc.

“Wicomico is reflecting how the economy is nationwide with finance, construction. We mirror the country in a very close way with what’s happening,” he said.

Locally, there are multiple benefits that add up to a pleasing quality of life, from a more reasonable cost of living to less traffic than in big cities.

“You’ve got a very solid foundation in poultry and agriculture here, health care, higher education and those three industries have long been a mainstay for Wicomico. And tourism, throw that in there and you have 300,000 people on any given weekend 30 miles away. Regional entities all help us. We have Assateague. There are three colleges nearby, a terrific hospital, a lot of diversification of industry here,” Ryan said.

“We’re a quickly growing metro area. If you look at the infrastructure — diversity, types of industry — we’ve weathered various economic cycles. The future is bright. It’s as bright as it’s ever been.

“We entered this recession and now we’re coming out. It has been challenging, but look at employment now. We’re moving in the right direction, although we wish we could do it quicker. I see more entrepreneurial efforts. The challenge is, how do we create an environment where people want to be?” Ryan said.

Dave Ryan is Executive Director of Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development. (Special To The Independent/Tony Weeg)

Dave Ryan is Executive Director of Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development. (Special To The Independent/Tony Weeg)

“We’re certainly working to find new manufacturing jobs to replace those jobs that will be leaving the community by the end of the year. Hopefully, we’re getting some diversity of industry so we are less reliant on one kind of company,” he said.

In the midst of the county’s, and Salisbury’s, growth, County Executive Bob Culver asked the County Council to approve funding for a full-time economic development director.

At a recent work session before the Fiscal Year 2017 budget was passed, Councilman Marc Kilmer spoke against the request because, he said, Culver’s administration had a full year, last year, to hire somebody but didn’t – even though office space was rented and paid for, along with utilities.

County Administrator Wayne Strausburg, though, adamantly called for the search to continue. “If we’re serious about economic develop you’ve got to have somebody every day breathing it and reporting to Wicomico County,” Strausburg said.

Councilman Joe Holloway asked if, in a full year, the right applicant could be found.

“Nope,” Strausburg said. In two cases, the salary wasn’t acceptable to the applicant, but Strausburg said he wants to keep looking.


Funding was not approved when the County Council passed the budget.

John Allen, the Delmarva Power Vice President who serves as SWED’s Chairman, said recently that a county-created position would not hamper anyone’s mission.

Allen said SWED isn’t seeking to compete with County Executive Culver’s goals for growing local business.
“(SWED and the county) do work together and we have. We are supported by the county,” Allen said. “Again, the message becomes, how do we do what we do and do it better? A lot of times we’ve suffered by being in the background and not really touting what SWED does, because we do things methodically and without a lot of fanfare.”

Whether Wicomico County ever gets an economic development director, it’s certain it will be a difficult job. “It’s a very challenging  position,” Ryan said.

“What worked before, even 15 years ago, doesn’t always work today. You have to be pretty nimble. We’ve seen changes in a great way here, if you look at the broader picture, going back to the textile plants of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

“In the ’80s, under President Reagan, there was of influx of businesses like Grumman, K&L Microwave, during that time of Reagan, that time of peace through strength.

“In the ’90s same facilities sold not only to the Pentagon but to places like Motorola. Today the focus is on health care and life sciences. That’s the cycle we’re in, life science as the population ages,” Ryan explained.

“The challenge we’re seeing in today’s market — and I suspect it has been like this for some time, but more visible today – is, when you talk to employers they’re saying, ‘We’re having trouble finding that right fit. Finding the skill set today is challenging.’

“Job seekers are saying the same thing. A hot topic in economic development nationwide, statewide, is we’ve outsourced a lot of jobs overseas. So industries today are technological. Manufacturing is technological. It is innovative. It does require a different skill set today,” he said.

The last recession “really forced companies and people to become more productive,” Ryan said.

“It’s not good enough anymore to have one skill set.


John Allen, Delmarva Power vice president, serves as Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development chairman. (Special To Salisbury Independent/Tony Weeg)

“The question today is, we have jobs. How can we, collectively, as a community, give people skill sets demanded by business today and connect them to one another so that we can all prosper? The demand for talent is as great as I he’d s ever seen it,” he said.

Among those offering solutions is Arcon Welding Equipment, where skills are taught. The demand for welders is met. Next, skills must be connected to jobs.

Once graduates of Arcon become certified, the challenge, Ryan said, is further enhancing their abilities.

Wicomico also has the benefit of skilled workers from Labinal Salisbury, which will close the end of this year.

“The skills are important. That’s what we’re marketing because there are other companies that can hire those Labinal people” as part of the economic strategy of retaining and growing, Ryan said.

“How we go about doing all of that is by targeting training much more than ever,” he said.

He said he believes it’s important to talk to existing employers, to determine their needs and see how the county can help them maintain and increase operations.

“Attrition will occur, but the economy is fluid and industries change, Ryan said.

“We always have to be on the lookout for new employers in the area.”

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