Commentary

printed 11/19/2021

Putting a real emphasis on tourism and marketing, as City Hall is about to do with its massive overhaul of this former departmental stepchild, make sense ... as far as it goes.

The catch is that marketing is just one element of what Ocean City needs to reach the stated goal of becoming a year-round resort.

Equally vital in this tourism-building equation is finding enough workers to staff the hotels, restaurants and other businesses that would have to remain open all year, assuming they would want to do that.

As many businesses learned this past summer, American students aren’t as interested in seasonal employment here as they once were. There was a time, as some of the resort’s current leading citizens will recall, when getting a job at the beach was a rite of passage during their college years.

Now, not so much, which makes Ocean City’s summer economy even more dependent on foreign workers. And that’s not going to work out if these potential employees have no reasonable accommodations at reasonable prices.

Although some businesses did exceptionally well this past summer with reduced staffing, it was an exhausting exercise that many of them couldn’t — or wouldn’t want to — endure on a year-round basis.

No one can fault property owners for raising their rents to whatever the market will bear, but the fact is it has left the immediate Ocean City area with an extreme shortage of affordable housing for young workers regardless of their point of origin.

Further, suggesting that businesses suck it up and raise wages to reflect the soaring costs of housing overlooks their own financial limitations — keeping prices within the range customers will accept, while also dealing with the rapidly rising cost of supplies.

This is something city officials must address with the same bold approach accorded the proposed tourism department expansion. Otherwise, as aggressive as their pursuit of year-round resort operations might be, that goal won’t be reached without people to do the work.

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