When Amazon began their search for an IT-focused “Headquarters-2” in 2017, they forced cities throughout North America to take a long, hard look at their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) credentials. This paper looks at Salisbury and Wicomico County, and determines that, with a dedicated effort, the area can become a high-tech, high impact region in several years.
Robert Garcia, February 26, 2018
Table of Contents
“Hi, we’re Salisbury! We’ve got power; we’ve got bandwidth; we’ve got space; we’re cheap; and if you tell me what you need people-wise, I will find a local to fill that job.”
To attract an industry, a city needs to know what that industry needs, and it needs to determine if it can meet the industry’s demands. For companies specializing in Information Technology (IT) and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), these demands include an adequate power supply; good connectivity; available space; reasonable costs; and a suitable labor force. If any of these demands are not met, these companies will usually look elsewhere.
In response to recent developments in the tech industry, I examined if Salisbury and Wicomico County can support the needs of a large IT company. I discovered that while we cannot do so at this time, the city and the county can do so in the near future, provided we commit ourselves to resolving certain deficiencies over the next several years, especially in regards to people.
Last September, when Amazon publicly announced that it was searching for a location for a “second” headquarters, promising 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment, cities from the United States, Canada, and Mexico went into public relation frenzies to attract the company (Wingfield, 2017). While Calgary created a giant sign stating they would fight a bear for the company, and Tucson sent a giant cactus to Amazon’s main headquarters in Seattle, most bids involved large tax breaks and offering open spaces. However, many cities, such as Toronto, understood that Amazon was not looking for a place to build a super-sized fulfillment center. Amazon was searching for a robust IT community with the infrastructure to support its crown jewel, Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS is the world’s largest cloud service provider, and accounts for much of Amazon’s profits (Dunn, 2017):
Figure 1. Amazon without AWS (Dunn, 2017)
Therefore, it is no surprise that one of the deciding factors in choosing the 20 finalists appeared to be information technology; 10 of the top 15 STEM cities in North America are on the list (Greenwood, 2017). Areas with strong IT communities also made the cut, such as Raleigh’s Research Triangle Park, and the Dulles Tech Corridor of Northern Virginia, Washington D.C., and Montgomery County:
Table 1. Breakdown of Higher Education Degrees in Major North American Cities (Greenwood, 2017)
|Metro||Business, Management, and Public Administration||Mathematics, Computer, and Information Sciences||Architecture, Engineering, and Related Technologies|
|Source: National Household Survey (2011), U.S. Census Bureau (2013). Cities in bold font are Amazon’s HQ2 finalists. Other finalists not listed include Austin, TX; Columbus, OH; Indianapolis, IN; Los Angeles, CA; Miami, FL; Montgomery County, MD; Nashville, TN; Newark, NJ; Northern Virginia; and Raleigh, NC (Amazon, 2018)|
Another STEM-related event that will have a significant impact on the local area occurred on November 29, 2017, when Orbital ATK’s stockholders unanimously approved Northrop Grumman’s bid for their company (Davenport & Gregg 2017). Orbital ATK, itself a merger of Orbital Sciences Corporation and Alliant Techsystems, has been launching Minotaur and Antares rockets from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island since 2006. As to the question if the MARS is shutting down because of the sale, it is more likely activity at the MARS will increase rather than decrease, due to the combination of Orbital ATK’s NASA contracts and Northrop Grumman’s defense contacts. In addition, there are only several places in the United States to launch a commercial payload greater than one ton: Cape Canaveral in Florida; Kodiak, Alaska; Vandenburg Air Force base in California, and the Eastern Shore’s own Wallops Island:
Table 2. Active Spaceports with Orbital Capability (Leveque, 2017)
|Launch Site||Operators||State||Use||Launches supported|
|California Spaceport & Vandenberg Air Force Base||Spaceport Systems International & US Air Force||CA||Commercial & Government||Orbital & Suborbital|
|Cape Canaveral Spaceport, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station & Kennedy Space Center||Space Florida, US Air Force & NASA||FL||Commercial & Government||Orbital & Suborbital|
|Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport & Wallops Flight Facility||Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority & NASA||VA||Commercial & Government||Orbital & Suborbital|
|Pacific Missile Range Facility||US Navy||HI||Government||Orbital|
|Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska||Alaska Aerospace Corporation||AK||Commercial||Orbital & Suborbital|
Finally, other large IT and STEM companies, such as Apple, are expanding and searching for new locations as well (Liedtke, 2018). The question is: Can Salisbury and Wicomico County meet the demands of large IT and STEM companies?
We’ve Got the Power
A large data center or supercomputer cluster typically demands about 20 megawatts (MW) of electrical power, which can amount to 172,800 megawatt hours (MWh) each year. Lucky for us, the two largest electric utilities on the Eastern Shore, Delmarva Power & Light, and the Choptank Electric Cooperative, distributed approximately 8,339,670 MWh in 2016, and met peak demands exceeding 4,000 MW:
Table 3. Energy Use on the Eastern Shore (US EIA 2016)
|Year||Utility Name||Peak Demand
|Peak Demand Winter (MW)||Total Disposition
In addition, while many high voltage lines in Wicomico County can carry up to 138 kilovolts (kV), the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland (PJM) Interconnection, which controls delivery of power throughout Maryland, expects to upgrade these lines to 230kV lines within the next 15 years through their Regional Transmission Expansion Planning (RTEP) (Maryland DNR, 2014):
Figure 2. Transmission line map (Maryland DNR, 2014)
Can You Hear Me Now?
Each year since 1990, the demand for connectivity by businesses, large and small, has increased exponentially, due to electronic mail; point-of-sale (POS) systems; cloud-based security systems; Internet marketing; etc. However, while many companies only transmit a few megabytes (MB) of data each day, most STEM and IT companies routinely send and receive large amounts of data every minute, and the largest tech companies need a pipeline that can handle transmission rates of over one gigabit per second (Gbps). The capacity of these pipelines is known as bandwidth, and thanks to the Maryland Broadband Cooperative (MDBC), we can meet the connectivity demands of these companies. The MBDC offers data transmission rates of up to 100 Gbps (the best bandwidth commercially available), on lines that connect the I-95 corridor to Wallops Island, through Salisbury (MDBC, 2017):
Figure 3. MDBC Coverage Map
One reason Amazon started looking for places outside of Seattle was space. Tech areas, such as Seattle and Silicon Valley, are running out of room, and housing prices in these areas are increasing the cost of living beyond the ability of some companies to compensate their employees:
Table 4. Cost of Living. National Average = 100. (Sperling’s, 2018; Data USA, 2018)
|City||Overall Score||Housing Score||Food Score||Utilities Score|
|Dulles Town Center, VA||137.6||207.2||113.9||106.8|
|San Jose, CA||222.2||454.6||120.4||127.5|
While these companies are willing to pay top dollar for the best, they are also watching their bottom line. One way these companies can reduce costs is by outsourcing. However, IT and STEM development are not simple manufacturing jobs, and due to security and intellectual property laws, much of this work must remain in the United States. Luckily, not only is the cost of living in Salisbury and Wicomico County below the national average, but we have plenty of space available. Besides our open spaces and the 166,000 square-foot former Labinal Power Systems building on Glen Avenue, there are over a dozen properties in the county with over 10,000 square-feet of space available, ready to reopen almost immediately:
Figure 4. Examples of Available Office and Industrial Spaces in Salisbury over 10,000 sq. ft.
In addition, the commitment to economic development and “reducing barriers to further investment” (Day, 2012), by city and county leaders, means that new and relocating IT and STEM companies should be able to get started right away. So, what is the problem?
The main impediment to Salisbury-Wicomico 2.0 is people. When it comes to IT, we do not have the people; we do not grow the people; we do not attract the people; and we do not retain the people. These statements are not meant to be disparaging; our area has just never focused on IT or STEM. However, each of these claims deserve discussion:
- We do not have the people: Unlike Maryland’s I-95 corridor, we do not have a large “tech class,” comprised of professionals working in IT or STEM fields. Our major industries are government; health care; education; and manufacturing:
Table 5. Major Employers in Wicomico County (MD DLLR, 2017 & MD DOC, 2017)
|Company||Employees||Product or Service||Industry|
|Local Government||4,944||Government services||Government|
|Peninsula Regional Medical Center (PRMC)||2,900||Medical services||Health care|
|State Government||2,710||Government services||Government|
|Salisbury University (SU)||1,790||Higher education||Education|
|Perdue Farms||1,500||HQ / poultry processing||Manufacturing|
|Walmart / Sam’s Club||750||Consumer goods||Retail trade|
|Jubilant Cadista Pharmaceuticals||540||Generic pharmaceutical preparations||Manufacturing|
|Wor-Wic Community College||450||Higher education||Education|
|Genesis HealthCare / Salisbury Rehabilitation and Nursing Center||340||Nursing care||Health care|
|Delmarva Power & Light (DP&L)||300||Energy products & services||Utilities|
|Federal Government||280||Government services||Government|
|K&L Microwave||265||Electronics assembly||Manufacturing|
|Dove Pointe||250||Services for persons with disabilities||Other services|
|SHORE UP!||250||Community development & social services||Other services|
|Three Lower Counties (TLC)||250||Social Services||Health care|
|Barrett Business Services Inc. (BBSI)||250||Staffing services||Administrative services|
- We do not grow the people: While we have excellent programs at all levels of education (e.g., STEM Saturdays, etc.), the primary focus of our local colleges and universities has never been IT or STEM. Our schools only offer general degrees in computer science, as opposed to other schools in the University of Maryland system, which offer hundreds of IT courses, as well as dozens of degrees in disciplines ranging from bioinformatics to systems engineering. This does not mean the quality of instruction of our schools is better or worse than schools across the bridge; it just means that there is more demand for graduates in those fields along the I-95 corridor. However, it also means that local graduates may be hard-pressed to compete for specialized work within the IT and STEM industries, especially for jobs that require a post-graduate degree:
Table 6. Comparison of IT Offerings by Local and USM Schools
|School||IT Offerings (2017)|
|Salisbury University (SU)||Mathematics with Concentration in Computer Science (BS)|
|University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)||Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (BS), Biotechnology (MS), Business Technology Administration (BA), Computer Engineering (BS, MS, PhD), Computer Science (BS, MS, PhD), Cybersecurity (MS), Data Science (MS), Geographic Information Systems (MS), Health Information Technology (MS), Human-Centered Computing (MS, PhD), Information Systems (BS, MS, PhD), Instructional Systems Development (MA), Systems Engineering (MS)|
|University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES)||Computer Science (BS), Computer Science with Business Focus (BS), Applied Computer Science (MS)|
|University of Maryland University College (UMUC)||Biotechnology: Bioinformatics (MS), Cloud Computing Architecture (MS), Computer Networks and Cybersecurity (BS), Computer Science (BS), Cybersecurity Management and Policy (BS, MS), Cybersecurity Technology (MS), Data Analytics (MS), Digital Media and Web Technology (BS), Information Systems Management (BS), IT: Database Systems Technology (MS), IT: Homeland Security Management (MS), IT: Informatics (MS), IT: Information Assurance (MS), IT: Project Management (MS), IT: Software Engineering (MS), IT: Systems Engineering (MS), IT: Telecommunications Management (MS), Management: Information Systems and Services (MS), Software Development and Security (BS)|
|Wor-Wic Community College||Computer & Network Support Technology Concentration (AAS), Web Development Concentration (AAS)|
- We do not attract or retain people: As shown by Table 5, there is little demand for large numbers of IT professionals in our area. In addition, local STEM-intensive employers find it hard to keep the specialists they have. I recall a conversation with a former Wallops Island human-resources assistant, who stated that many IT recruits, unable to adapt to the “Slower-Lower” lifestyle, look for employment across the bridge once they gain a year of experience. Another Wallops Island employee discussed the “boom” of techs looking for work following the end of the Space Shuttle program, and the “bust,” once Space X and other companies started hiring these specialists to work at other locations.
Solutions and Recommendations
While an obvious proposal would be for local colleges and universities to offer more IT courses and degrees, the development and approval process for those classes will take time, and adding courses is not enough. The lack of roots and lack of work means that we will not be able to retain graduates, regardless of the number of classes the schools provide, resulting in a “brain drain,” which will benefit other towns.
However, there are steps that we can take to “grow” and “futureproof” our talent pipeline, which in turn can attract jobs, and create the demand for more courses:
- Recognize K through 12 STEM Excellence – Each month, we can ask the Wicomico County Public Schools to submit a list of students to be recognized by the city and county councils for STEM excellence. The councils can enter the names of those students into the minutes, and at the end of the year, we can award a Mayor’s or Executive’s Award for K through 12 achievements, as well as a STEM leadership award for educators. Along with the Wicomico County Board of Education’s (WCBOE) STEM Challenges and STEM Saturdays (https://www.wcboe.org/instruction/programs/stem_program) (Boggs, 2018; WCPS, 2016 & 2017), this will further encourage participation in STEM activities at an early age, and the winners can state that they were recognized for STEM excellence by their local officials on resumes and college applications.
- Recognize STEM Supporters – We can recognize local businesses that contribute money or materials to STEM activities, such as those that contributed to the WCBOE STEM Lego League tournament (WCPS, 2017). By encouraging donations, we can increase the frequency of the WCBOE STEM Saturdays, and incorporate more activities, such as Microsoft’s STEM lessons (https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/education/education-workshop/default.aspx). Participating businesses can advertise their support by displaying stickers or logos, such as “I Support SBY STEM”, which will also act as a brand and a marketing statement for the city and county.
- Expedite Scholarships and Internships – There are hundreds of STEM scholarships and internships available to high school and college students (Paul, 2018a). For example, the U.S. Department of Defense offers dozens of STEM-related programs, internships, and scholarships for all levels of education (http://www.dodstem.us/stem-programs/), and SU has a list at http://www.salisbury.edu/henson/stem/Internships_Scholarships_Fellowships.html. Many of these internships require endorsements and references; the city and county can assist in providing these to local applicants. In addition, the city and county can establish their own scholarships, similar to the Wicomico Economic Impact Scholarship (WEIS), but focused on encouraging students to pursue IT and STEM associate degrees or certifications (Wor-Wic, 2016).
- Incentivize Gale Courses – Gale Courses (https://education.gale.com/l-sali50380/) are online, instructor-led courses that cover multiple subjects, including multimedia design; computer programming; and network and security. Through a contract with Cengage, these courses, which can cost thousands of dollars at schools across the bridge, are offered for free by the Wicomico County Public Library (Cengage, 2018). We can encourage participation in these courses by offering incentives. At the high school level, we can allow students to get credit for completing IT-related Gale Courses on their own time. For adults interested in IT, we can offer reduced rent, similar to the terms of tenancy at the Rivers Edge Apartments and Studio for the Arts (Salisbury Independent, 2015), provided they are actively pursuing an IT certification. We can also develop “buddy” support systems, similar to the environment provided by SU’s Living Learning Communities (http://www.salisbury.edu/housing/LLC/), to encourage course completion (Paul, 2018b). By the way, completing all the courses and exams in the CompTIA track (A+, Network+, and Security+) may take up to two years. However, these certifications are in demand, and enough qualified technicians can attract tech companies:
Table 7. Top IT Entry-Level Certifications (Global Knowledge, 2018)
|Certification||Average Salary (2017)|
|CompTIA A+ Technician (Gale Course available)||$77,053|
|CompTIA Network+ (Gale Course available)||$79,435|
|Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)||$80,873|
|CompTIA Security+ (Gale Course available)||$87,666|
|Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) – Windows Server||$89,941|
|Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) v3 Foundation||$93,638|
|Citrix Certified Associate – Virtualization (CCA-V)||$96,231|
|Citrix Certified Associate – Networking (CCA-N)||$98,583|
|Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP)||$103,910|
|Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified Solutions Architect – Associate||$119,085|
- Attract Military Retirees – Some of the world’s top aerospace and engineering; cybersecurity; and medical systems are being used or developed at military bases throughout Maryland, as well as Dover Air Force Base, Northern Virginia and Norfolk. Many service members departing those bases have intimate knowledge of these systems. In addition, many of these military retirees will leave the service with active security clearances, as well as pensions and benefits. Finally, the federal government and the state of Maryland offer tax incentives to employers hiring veterans (VA, 2018 & MD DOC, 2018). This combination of experience, clearances, and benefits make military retirees, especially those from Delaware; Maryland; and Virginia, very attractive to high-tech companies. However, certain regulations, such as the recently-reinstated Department of Defense’s 180-day “revolving door” rule, may cause some of these veterans to depart the area (Salomon, 2017). We can attend the monthly transition briefs at nearby bases (https://www.dodtap.mil/) and ask these service members to consider relocating to Salisbury and Wicomico County instead, promoting our area’s low cost of living; proximity to the above bases; and other charms. If we can get enough of them to stay, we can create a labor pool that attracts high-tech companies to our area.
- Attract STEM Events – Every year, hundreds of STEM and IT-related conferences, expos, and summits are held throughout the United States (e.g., USA Science and Engineering Festival at https://usasciencefestival.org/, etc.). We can reach out to organizers of these conventions and ask them to consider using the Civic Center and other local facilities to host their events. Some, such as the Maryland STEM Festival (https://marylandstemfestival.org/host/), actively search for hosts within the state.
- Request Funding – While there is less money for government grants this year, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) 2018 budget is still over $6 billion, and they expect to hand out over 8000 new research grants (https://www.nsf.gov/about/budget/fy2018/index.jsp). SU has applied and received funding from the NSF before (Salisbury University, 2018), but the NSF grants money to all types of organizations, from individuals; to K-12 programs; to small businesses…as long as it is related to STEM (https://www.nsf.gov/funding/). While nothing that we have suggested so far requires a large amount of funds, we can look for opportunities to expand local STEM work and research, and request funding from the NSF, and other sources, to support these endeavors.
- Advocacy – Finally, the most important action Salisbury and Wicomico County can take is to establish an “advocacy group.” The purpose of these advocates is to “sell” Salisbury:
“Hi, we’re Salisbury! We’ve got power; we’ve got bandwidth; we’ve got space; we’re cheap; and if you tell me what you need people-wise, I will find a local to fill that job.”
To fulfill the last part of that pitch, the advocacy group can implement the suggestions listed above, such as soliciting small business STEM support; attending military transition briefs; attracting conferences and conventions; etc. The group can also track metrics as well, such as the number of students recognized by the council; status of Gale Course students, etc. In addition, the advocates can surveil tech companies, and be ready to approach them if an opportunity arises to bring their business to the Shore. The team, which should include representatives from utility companies; the MDBC; veteran service officers; as well as local officials, educators, and business leaders, should meet on a regular basis, to set goals and to ensure progress is being made.
Lastly, the city and county must identify what they are willing to offer companies interested in Salisbury and Wicomico County, such as tax breaks, etc. Offering too little or nothing at all may cause these companies to look elsewhere. Reasonable incentives, coupled with our IT infrastructure and cost of living, can make it easy for companies to say, “Yes,” to the Shore.
Building Salisbury-Wicomico 2.0 will take time, as well as significant effort and cooperation. However, it can be done. The largest and most expensive pieces, such as the power grid; fiber lines; and buildings, are already in place. The only thing needed is a focused effort, similar to the one that has made Third Friday and other local endeavors so successful. If we come together to support this initiative in the same way, there is no doubt that within several years’ time, the vision of a high-tech Eastern Shore will become a reality.
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