Strengthening Maryland's Coast

Being mostly small rural towns here on the lower shore, Tourism and Economic Development director Melanie Pursel, would imagine you are constantly looking for ways to strengthen your economies, provide better quality of life, and build on local assets.

Pursel states, “Especially here on the Lower Shore, Tourism is an economic driver and can play an integral role in reaching this goal. We have tremendous natural assets, recreational activities, scenic beauty, wineries/breweries/distilleries, Lots of WATER, as well as amazing educational institutions and healthcare.”

Within this new post Covid-19 environment comes opportunity- Maryland’s Coast is a prime location to attract remote workers and learners as well as new businesses and entrepreneurs. The county needs to be able to sell the towns, cities, or destination even within the small Lower Shore region.

However, the county must also be ready to receive these new customers, SO infrastructure- especially broadband, transportation networks and housing (such as condos and apartments in downtown areas) are critical.

Here are a few themes that needs aid in success….

-Collaboration and partnerships- rising tide concept- do merchants and businesses support one another? Are they a part of the chamber or merchant’s association, or main street association? (it is OK to have more than one restaurant, hair salon, bank, florist, bakery or coffee shop- that creates demand and return visits- attracts people and diversity)- this collaboration will build a sense of pride and excitement about your community among the business owners and residents.

Here in Worcester, Pursel says, her department communicates regularly with their towns (monthly Town Talks) to see how they can support their efforts, share ideas, and create new product. It is key to stay in touch with your DMO, economic development agencies and chambers of commerce. They are a tremendous resource in terms of advertising and marketing opportunities, finding grant opportunities, and advocacy efforts at the federal, state and local level just to name a few.

-Vision and planning- who do you want to be- set your town/community apart- identify your assets from both a tourism and economic development standpoint (from A and E tax credits and being in an Enterprise Zones to sailing the only Paddle wheeler in State or having a Heritage Museum downtown such as what we have here in Pocomoke)- As part of your Vision and overall Planning develop and continuously update a marketing plan or overall strategic plan specifically for tourism and economic development.

- Identity - Your Identity incorporates a number of factors- quality of life, people, business, tourism, culture, heritage, education, and civic leadership- these factors all tie in to your community’s identity- its not just about a logo, slogan or tagline it’s a sense of place.

Here’s a note to take away from the 2021 Maryland Tourism and Travel Summit: The best way to identify your one of a kind PLACE is to

Be Prominent- be well known and influential

Love- why are people passionate about your place- these are your Ambassadors

Authenticity- you can see it and touch it- what authentic experiences do you offer

Character- your soul and heritage, Customs and Culture- Identify these

Be Exceptional- deliver your product better than most

Pursel explains, “In order to truly capture our identity, Here in Worcester County We went through a very intensive PLACE branding initiative- at the end of the process we identified as Maryland’s Coast- we owned it ---the only place in Maryland where the Ocean Meets the land- this process is a fantastic way to tie partners in- get buy in from stakeholders and residents- and discover who you really are and you can finally answer the question Why Choose us? To live, to start a business, to visit, to play..”

Then the hard work begins- discovering the best way to share this identity with your residents, visitors and businesses BOTH potential and existing- for attraction, retention and economic growth…advertising, social media, partnerships, professional networks and associations. This is where the strategic plan comes back into play----

With this identity awareness, collaboration, vision, and planning… growth will occur in a way that is congruent with all aspects of your Community or PLACE.

This will spark tourism and revitalization of downtowns such as what we have seen in Salisbury and Berlin and are hoping to see in Snow Hill and Pocomoke- such as restoration and repurposing of historic buildings to brew pubs and higher end apartments, dilapidated old banks or firehouses that can now be retail space or restaurants, walkable communities, beautification, signage and wayfinding in the towns.

You can then create incentives to attract this development or incentivize landlords of blighted properties to make improvements.  For example, The OCDC in downtown Ocean City has an amazing Façade improvement program utilizing grant funding from DHCD. There is also an opportunity for employment or job creation tax credits or the creation of a redevelopment zone when attracting new businesses. It is just a matter of putting these mechanisms in place or collaborating with your county economic development office and the department of Commerce.

It is also key as part of your growth to determine what businesses make sense are fit within your identity- and have guidelines in place to ensure that you maintain the integrity of your community.

Finally measuring success or failure is critical- because intelligence and data makes you stronger and able to swivel (dare I say Pivot) - how are you performing, where are people coming from and who are they—data gives you the ability to also identify new markets and new visitors or new business sectors-- and go for them.

Again, the opportunities are endless with collaboration, vision, planning, passion and purpose.

For more information on Worcester County visit HERE