Southern Delmarva Economic Forecast conference: businesses optimistic despite rising Inflation

SALISBURY, Md. – Businesses leaders and government officials met Friday at the Perdue School of Business at Salisbury University for the 2022 Southern Delmarva Economic Forecast, expressing cautious optimism, and highlighting growth brought forth by investments.

Speakers at the conference spoke to the 3 biggest challenges in the region, affordable child care, expanding broadband internet access, and transportation, as the 3 factors holding back growth. Speakers included local ISPs that pointed to federal cares dollars that could be appropriated to go where larger carriers wouldn’t with high-speed internet, as well as the construction of the Intergenerational Center in Cambridge as progress for childcare.

Worcester County Economic Development Director Melanie Pursel tells us, Ocean City is seeing a bump in tourism this year and is gearing up to become a sports venue, with revamped investment in its 3rd street athletic center as well as construction on the convention center set to wrap up in January.

“We are seeing new businesses opening, new hotels, a lot of great new activity especially with outdoor outfitters, activities like stand up paddling and bike trails growing so there is a lot of opportunity in Worcester county if we can get a handle on this workforce issue for 2022,” she said.

Those workforce issues are hitting restaurants particularly hard, compounding the problems caused by higher prices on goods and services that restaurants rely on.

“We cannot in good conscience charge 21.95 for a hamburger with fries but I’m telling you we are not that far off,” said Restaurant Association of Maryland President Marshall Weston. Weston tells us inflation is making margins for restaurants even tighter, and restaurants can only hold a loss, or accrue debt for so long before those price hikes get passed on to consumers. But that has its own risk.

“If inflation continues to increase and prices on everything continues to go up on the restaurant side will customers start dining out less often because we know that dining out budget comes from discretionary funds for people,” he said.

He says he hopes more of the federal restaurant relief fund dollars are actually able to be used by restaurants to keep them going, he tells us only one-third of restaurants who applied for those additional funds were able to claim them.

“All of these things are coming together during uncertain times and is causing a tight labor market there’s a lot of pent up demand not as much supply,” said Economic Development Director for Wicomico County David Ryan. Ryan tells us that one way to increase the supply of workers is job training helping more people become qualified to fill positions in sectors across Delmarva, an idea he says Universities like UMES and WarWic are already fulfilling.

“We have a lot of training that’s ongoing in Wicomico county, look no further than WorWic getting ready to start a new technical education building dedicated solely to workforce development, and helping with kids getting the training and financial literacy,” he said.

Industries that rely on those workers like breweries and wineries with on-site entertainment and drinking, known as Agritourism, have seen a bump on Delmarva. Pursel said those businesses that are manufacturing the beer and wine using local ingredients, with a physical location open to the public have seen success. She tells us Worcester County is looking to loosen zoning restrictions for Agritourism to allow for more businesses in that sector to expand.

“We are looking to soften some of those requirements for those folks looking to add those businesses to Worcester County,” Pursel said.

She said listening to other presentations at the conference, that she was convinced the businesses industry is adapting to the needs of the working community, particularly withdrawing employees who may have had to stay home due to the lack of childcare.

“The job seeker has a different expectation now and I think employers are seeing if they don’t cater to that they’re going to be short-handed so that total compensation package has to be more than an hourly wage or a salary, it has to account for childcare, transportation, and housing which are the top issues for our job seekers,” she said.

Categories: Business, Delaware, Local News, Local Politics, Maryland, Virginia