Report finds many assets in Wicomico County’s favor

county Visioning report 10-23

Dr. Memo Diriker of BEACON and Salisbury University, right, speaks at last week’s Wicomico County Vision Action Report presentation. Seated from left at Dr. Ray Hoy of Wor-Wic Community College, County Council President Matt Holloway, Brad Gillis of DEVRECO developers and County Executive Rick Pollitt.

The allure of Wicomico County, its proximity to major cities and exemplary residents make it a wonderful place to live.

“What a beautiful part of the country. Nature has blessed us beyond belief. We are so incredibly blessed to be living in Wicomico County and it’s our responsibility to make it an even better place to live,” said Memo Diriker, president of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce and director of the Business, Economic, and Community Outreach Network at Salisbury University.

He was involved in formulating the Regional Visioning Process, a detailed plan conceived more than two years ago and containing intentions for improvements in seven areas. It was presented by County Administrator Rick Pollitt at a public meeting last week.

Contributing to its content were representatives from the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, Wor-Wic Community College, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Salisbury University and the Tri-County Council.

Areas targeted for enrichment are economic development, city-county synergy, education, transportation, watershed protection, agricultural preservation and healthy communities.

“We need to invest in both the hard infrastructure of our community — ports and airports — and also in the soft, meaning the people and workforce development,” Diriker said.

The goal is “better jobs, better careers, better prosperity and a number of opportunities we’ve discussed,” he said.

City-county synergy “is where we recognize business doesn’t care about jurisdictional boundaries,” he said.

When a venture is developed, its success won’t depend on location in the city or county. Everything in the city is also in the county, Diriker said, “so why don’t we find ways for all economic activity to be as painless and seamless as possible?”

Education is important because without a schooled workforce, the county will lack qualified manpower. Employees need to not only be educated, but expertly trained.

“We want the overall college attainment level of our population to be higher,” Diriker said.

Ideas for improving transportation include maintaining road systems, making investments in the port, dredging the river and increasing commercial activity around the airport.

Watershed protection is mandatory because it offers the quality of life Lower Shore residents treasure.

“This is what makes us so special. It is the water. We have to protect the watershed and we cannot sacrifice other parts of our economy,” Diriker said.

He called agriculture “the No. 1 industry in Wicomico County.”

“It is our heritage and it is our future in terms of sustainable food sources into the future of the mid-Atlantic region. We are feeding more than just Delmarva. It makes sense for agriculture to be a vibrant and robust industry,” he said.

Healthy communities refers to public health care.

“This is dealing with an environment where drug use, alcohol abuse and obesity are high. We have a lot of work to do. We see high incidences of cardiovascular disease, cancer. We are looking at investments to improve the health of our population,” he said.

All of the seven points in the plan are equally important, Diriker said. “They are different sides of the same prism. When you look at a multi-cut diamond, you look at it from different perspectives, with all its facets, but it’s still the same diamond,” he said.

The vision originated from the effects of the recession. Diriker said Pollitt was wise to realize the solution wasn’t taxing a county out of a poor economy, but concentrating on growth and goals.

The vision plan will be posted on the county’s Web site and each of the points will have a timeline. Some will take longer to achieve, Diriker said.

“This was an exercise in determination — who we are, where we are, who we want to be, where we want to be.  Based on that, we developed a roadmap to get there,” Diriker said, summarizing the plan.

Wicomico County is well worth the investment of time and ideas because of its many attributes, he said.

For Diriker, Wicomico County “gives me everything,” from breathtaking nature to relaxing waterways to entertainment.

Although Washington, D.C., and New York City are rich in culture and offer musical and stage shows, tickets can cost hundreds of dollars and hotel stays are expensive, he said.

But Salisbury University has affordable theater and symphony productions, as well as art exhibits, and so do the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Wor-Wic Community College, he said.

Even better are the county’s fine residents, he said.

“The people here are very interlinked, very can-do, very cordial to each other. We have our disagreements, but it’s the people and the county that make Wicomico County such a wonderful place to live,” he said.

“There are a whole bunch of us who came here from elsewhere and a whole lot of others who are perfectly capable of leaving, but we aren’t leaving,” he said.

“We are going to keep investing in our community. Collectively we made the decision to stay here and invest in the future.”

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