(Nov. 23, 2018) Other parts of the country may be experiencing economic prosperity with low unemployment and high job growth, but it appears Worcester County has yet to jump on that bandwagon.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows preliminary data of 5.3 percent unemployment for the county. Data for October was not yet available.
There were 250,000 jobs added nationally in October, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The unemployment rate remained at a historic low – 3.7 percent.
In September, the unemployment rate fell to 3.7 percent, the lowest since 1969, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
At the state level, Maryland’s unemployment rate decreased to 4.1 percent in October, according to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
There were 10,700 jobs added statewide in October, according to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Teresa Blaner, director of media and communication for the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said she is optimistic about the state’s prospects.
“Almost daily, we are hearing about expansion of existing companies and new companies relocating to Maryland,” Blaner said. “Being able to fulfill the workforce needs of those businesses is our [number-one] priority.”
There were gains in employment nationwide and across the state, but what does that mean for Worcester County? The area presents a 5.6 percent unemployment rate as of August, which is higher than the national and state averages.
Kathryn Gordon, deputy director for Worcester County Economic Development, touted the county’s strengths during the tourist season.
“We are a county with a strong tourism and hospitality industry with many businesses operating seasonally and open from around Memorial Day to around Labor Day,” Gordon said.
Jessica Waters, communications manager for the Town of Ocean City, acknowledged the seasonal unemployment peaks and valleys, but said the town’s economic prosperity has grown past the traditional summer season.
“Ocean City is a seasonal town, but we have continued to grow through the shoulder months,” Waters said. “We see our highest unemployment percentages in the winter months, but are fortunate that we have many returning employees to fill our seasonal vacancies.”
Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, agreed the area’s seasonal nature contributes to the unemployment rate, but ventured to say the bulk is in Ocean City.
Labor data shows a 12.9 percent unemployment rate for January 2018, which steadily declined to 5.6 percent by August. Gordon cited the increasing trend of employment in past years.
Worcester County had a 12.9 percent annual unemployment rate in 2012, which steadily decreased to 8.5 percent in 2017, according to statistics from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
“The business community is increasing year-round, full-time job opportunities for county residents and as more businesses open in Worcester [County], I see the unemployment rate continuing to decrease,” Gordon said.
With regards to the unemployment rate, Jones said it could be due to the specific nature of the area. She added some prefer coastal living, while others like what city living can offer.
“I mean I would say we geographically, we just don’t have a large base of people to draw from because there are certain people who love this type of living,” Jones said.
Jones went on to say the difference in geographic preferences means “we don’t have the same amount of people just based on pure census numbers that we would be able to draw from if we were in a large city.”
Gordon said the Lower Shore American Job Center in Salisbury provides resources for businesses and prospective employees.
“Businesses can seek help looking for qualified workers and those looking for job opportunities can contact the American Job Center,” Gordon said. “Training services are even available for those interested in enhancing their [skill set] as well as their career.”
For more information about the job center, call 410-341-8533.
Gordon touted the local workforce’s efforts to offer a friendly experience, which she said she hopes will help pave the way for new enterprises looking to find a home in Worcester County.
“Our local employees are the first to boast about our beautiful county,” Gordon said. “If you walk from one business to the next, you can hear the employees recommending places to eat, where to shop, and where to visit.”
There are approximately 12,000 seasonal jobs available, according to Melanie Pursel, executive director of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. She said about 4,000 of those positions are filled by participants of the J1 Student Visa program, while college students and local residents typically fill the remaining positions.
Pursel said there have been eight hotels added to the island over the past couple years, which could also present an opportunity for employment.
Jones said the addition of several chain hotels presents both a challenge and opportunity for more business, as they are required to remain open year-round.
“So with the new influx of this room supply, we are going to have to now to create some business to keep these hotels filled in the year-round season,” Jones said.
Jones said it comes down to having the conversation to come up with a plan to keep up with the demand in rooms.
“We typically have around 9,500 rooms and we’ve gotten about a 7 percent increase in our supply, so we’ve had almost 700 new rooms that are either built, just opened or in the pipeline,” Jones said. “So you know if you’ve got 7 percent more inventory, you’ve got to figure out how to fill them.”
Jones also shed light on the additional competition into the hospitality market from home sharing websites like Airbnb, Craigslist and VRBO.
“So now every person is technically a business owner. Those who rent out their homes on the home rental sharing sites, they are now business people too,” Jones said. “So they are competing with the hotels, but they’ve added to the new room supply.”
These online sites are allowed within Ocean City, according to Jones, who praised the town’s efforts in keeping users renting their homes accountable and ensuring they have the proper paperwork.
“The town has been really cognizant in doing that, which has been helpful, and it also has helped increase the room tax,” she said. “Because now, those people are paying room tax … now we’re happy with that because they’re playing fair, and you know they’re playing by the same rules that we’re playing by.”
While the seasonal variation of unemployment for the area is widely known, Jones stressed the need for a plan to make Ocean City a desirable place to work.
“Basically, there’s a lot of jobs and we’ve got to figure out how to fill them,” Jones said. “And those are actually discussions that we’re having now too because it is definitely an issue.”