State economic outlook celebrated at Mid-Shore conference

EASTON — Riding on the coattails of an almost unprecedented economic upturn in the state, at least a hundred representatives of the 464-member Maryland Economic Development Association were ready to celebrate Economic Development Week Oct. 20 to 26 during the organization’s annual fall conference.

The conference, “Defining Your Community Identity,” was sponsored by Maryland Department of Commerce, the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and PNC Bank.

Gov. Larry Hogan’s director of commerce was on hand to dole out some numbers that drew applause from the gathering at about 9 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 21.

Attendees were originally scheduled to gather on Sunday afternoon Oct. 20 at the Tidewater Inn for a guided walking tour of “Easton’s robust downtown shopping and culinary scenes, two business sectors that anchor this rural micropolis,” the agenda stated. But pouring rain drove the attendees into Scossa Restaurant for a meet-and-greet.

Greeting them inside the restaurant was U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who stopped by to chat with local leaders and MEDA VIPs before moving on to fulfill his role as keynote speaker during the Talbot County Democratic Forum’s 2019 Kennedy-King Unity Dinner at the Milestone Event Center in Easton.

On Monday morning, MEDA members assembled in the Gold Room of the Tidewater Inn to hear from state Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore; Corey Pack, president of the Talbot County Council; Cassandra Vanhooser, director of Talbot County Economic Development and Tourism; Easton Mayor Robert Willey; and Ben Wu, deputy director of the Maryland Department of Commerce.

Wu brought a proclamation from the governor, touting economic gains during the Hogan administration and celebrating the contributions of MEDA.

Creating a “shared prosperity in all corners of the state” was what Hogan aimed to achieve when he asked Wu to join the administration, Wu said.

“Every week is economic development week,” Wu said.

“We know that everybody in this room works hard every day to revitalize our communities, to create jobs, to attract companies and to really take our existing companies to the next level,” Wu said. “And it’s really made an impact.”

Wu shared some “great news,” quipping that it wasn’t that the Yankees wouldn’t be going to the World Series, prompting laughter from the attendees.

Department of Labor jobs numbers released on Friday, Oct. 18, indicated that the state is “continuing to move forward and change for the better,” Wu said.

Maryland gained more than 10,000 jobs in September, Wu said. “And that’s the largest monthly gain since May of 2016.”

“We have created almost 20,000 jobs in our state since August which is a two-month record in recent times,” even beating Virginia’s numbers, he said. The unemployment level is 3.7%, the lowest in a decade.

“Together, we are making a difference,” Wu said.

Eckardt told MEDA members that the Eastern Shore needed their creativity, drive and all age groups at the table “to put in place a number of initiatives that will sustain us in future years.”

“Let’s learn from the best of where we’ve been, and let’s take where we are now, and let’s go forward with innovation, creativity and determination to make our state the best,” Eckardt said.

Now in its ninth year, Economic Development Week aims to promote local economic expansion and educate the public about its monetary, industrial and social benefits across the state. Economic Development Week is sponsored by the Maryland Department of Commerce, the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and Comcast.

A special focus of the conference was exploring rural economic development and helping businesses focused in the three F’s: farm, fish and food.

Pack said the theme of “Defining Your Community Identity” was “both timely and thought-provoking.”

“In Talbot County, we strive to embrace the opportunities of tomorrow, but also continue to honor our historic assets,” Pack said, highlighting the county’s unique place in history as the home of native son Frederick Douglass and the Hill community, founded by free African Americans 230 years ago.

Willey pointed to the same heritage and to new economic opportunities and stores like Marshall’s and Ulta Beauty coming soon to Easton.

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