EASTON - Business leaders and government officials from across the region packed the Talbot Country Club Wednesday morning for the fifth annual Talbot County Business Appreciation Breakfast. The event is hosted by the county's Economic Development Commission and Office of Economic Development and sponsored by multiple local businesses.
"Today we celebrate our business community, and it is working well," said Paige Bethke, director of Talbot County Office of Economic Development. "And we celebrate all of you who are working very hard to protect and grow our economy in this place we call home."
The breakfast is a time for recognizing past year achievements, Bethke said, and for noting indications of what may come.
"Our county budgets have been proposed and drafted for the new fiscal year, giving us some indication of what resources might be available," she said, noting hearings are scheduled for May 7. She said the county is working with the economic development groups to create strategic plans for the future.
Moving forward, healthcare is a major economic driver, Bethke said. More than 500,000 square feet of medical office space is in use on Idlewild and Dutchman's Lane, 20,000 square feet of new space is in the first phase at Achievement Park and another 40,000 square feet is in the initial development stage at Waterside Village for Quality Health Strategies. QHS, Dr. Freida Wadley, president, employs 200 people locally and 400 nationally in the tracking and identification of Medicare and Medicaid fraud as part of their business model, Bethke said. Additionally, Bethke said, the county will continue to work closely with Shore Health System to provide a contemporary health care facility at the north entrance to the town.
The county's manufacturing base and defense contractors also generate economic stability for the community, she said. Employers like Konsyl Pharmaceuticals, Celeste Industries, Aphena Pharma Solutions, Sotera Defense Systems and WhiteOak Group all provide local jobs and a strong economic base for the region.
Bethke noted other businesses and industries, including the agricultural community, which contributes $50 million annually to the region's economy. "Thank a farmer," Bethke said.
Between 2005 and 2011, the county lost an aggregate of 108 businesses, mostly in manufacturing and construction, according to data prepared by the Sage Policy Group for the county's 2012 economic analysis.
"This is out of a total of 1,650 businesses, but it is disturbing because we are losing good-paying, family wages,"Bethke said. An unemployment base of between 16,500 and 17,000 equates to a 6.7 percent rate, according to the data.
"Many who are not working are not captured in this number," Bethke said. "We need to dedicate more resources to create jobs and retrain people who want to work."
In 2012, the median household income was $63,000 which is considerably less than the state average of more than $70,000.
"We also brought home less money in wages at $716 per week, compared to the state average of $1,019. Both of these indicators need improving," Bethke said.
Over the past ten years, the population of the county has increased by nearly 12 percent and households have increased by 9 percent, both above state averages. Most of the growth occurred in the town of Easton a place we recognize as the commercial, financial and medical hub of the Mid-Shore Region, Bethke said. "And some would argue the universe."
Jeff Fuchs, director of Maryland World Class Consortia, was the keynote speaker.
Sponsors of the event included Avon Dixon Insurance Agency, Chesapeake College, Chesapeake Utilities, Corporate Caretaking, Easton Airport, Easton Utilities Commission, The Henker Group, PNC Bank and Wells Fargo Advisors.