Salisbury Rising 2019: ‘It’s a cool time,’ Development Director says

Dave Ryan.

The Executive Director of Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development said he has a lot of faith and optimism in the next generation as it helps shape the future of Salisbury.

“It’s a cool time,” Dave Ryan says of the changes and growth in the city and surrounding area in recent years.

In years past, local high school graduates often left the area to attend college and never returned, but Ryan said he has seen a reversal of the so-called brain drain as more young people are returning to the area where they grew up.

The area also has seen Salisbury University graduates choose to stay in the area instead of returning to their hometowns, partly because city and county leaders have formed tighter bonds with the campus.

“I think that’s a great thing,” he said. “The more we engage with SU, the more you will see that. We have to give students a look at what’s available in our market.”

The city’s efforts to create a more walkable and vibrant Downtown, coupled with infrastructure improvements and expansion of the Salisbury-Wicomico Regional Airport, will continue to drive the local economy for years to come, Ryan said.

“The city and county are working hard to make this a place people want to be,” he said.

Salisbury has seen a lot of growth, particularly in the Downtown area where many of the city’s older buildings have been redeveloped with apartments on the upper floors above retail and office spaces on the ground levels.

Several new projects are under way including the former Vernon Powell building on the Downtown Plaza that is being converted to 22 apartments. Nearby, 100 more apartments are planned as part of a mixed-use development on the large parking lot formerly owned by the city near the Wicomico Public Library.

Another project called The Ross will create Downtown Salisbury’s tallest building when nine more stories are added to 130 and 132 East Main St., keeping the historical facades of the existing buildings. When the building is completed, it will have 59 apartments, an open-air rooftop event center, offices and a ground floor restaurant.

Even more apartments are slated for a new development planned at the Salisbury Marina and at another former city parking lot next to the Wicomico River on Market Street.

Salisbury’s residents have gotten younger in recent years, but Ryan said the redevelopment in the city has appeal across a broad sector of the population.

While the area has seen growth in construction of apartment and townhouse complexes, the housing inventory is still tight, Ryan said.

There also has been a slight uptick in single-family home construction, which Ryan said is important. Eventually, the 20-somethings living in small apartments will get married, have children and need more space, he said.

Jobs in the area continue to be in four main categories: agriculture, health care, higher education and manufacturing.

“They’re still the basis of our economy today just as in years past,” Ryan said. “Going forward, we’ll see those same sectors.”

But the job market has evolved over the years. Years ago, textile factories and the Campbell Soup plant accounted for most of the manufacturing jobs in the region, but those have all disappeared as the companies shut down operations.

Those jobs were replaced in the 1980s by defense contractors such as the Grumman Corp. Later they were replaced by companies smaller companies that produce technology and life science products.

“It’s a natural evolution,” Ryan said. “Now there are less big companies and more niche companies.”

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