OCEAN CITY — Business leaders this week got a formal introduction to Worcester Economic Development Director Bill Badger, Jr. and it appears the new department head already has an understanding of the dynamics in the county and the resort.
Badger was hired by Worcester County in November to replace former Economic Development Director Gerald Redding. On Monday, he was formally introduced to the Ocean City Economic Development Committee (EDC).
“I’m excited to be here,” he said. “I have great memories of this island from my childhood and I’m privileged to be working on its behalf now. I’ve only been here for five weeks, but I’ve met a ton of people and the business community here is very engaged and very active. I find that encouraging and exciting.”
Worcester County typically leads the state in terms of unemployment figures. For example, even in August, at the height of the summer season, unemployment in Worcester came in at over 8 percent. This winter, the figure has spiked to a staggering 17percent, a figure not lost on Badger.
“I feel a sense of urgency every day,” he said. “That drives me to do everything I can to find job creators here.”
Spurring economic development and reversing unemployment trends is job one for Badger, who hopes to take advantage of the area’s captive audience.
“We have a lot of people visiting us, hundreds of thousands, and many of them are amazing entrepreneurs,” he said. “We need to reach out to them and say ‘you love this place so why not start a business here’. We need to try to capture some of those people who already come here and enjoy it here.”
Badger said the county is facing tough economic times because of declining property tax revenues. Worcester derives around 77 percent of its annual budget from property tax revenue.
“That’s a huge issue, but we need to find a way to grow out of our revenue problem,” he said. “That’s my challenge. That’s what I’ve been hired to do.”
Badger told EDC there is a lot of potential for economic development in the county’s south end where much of the industrial zoning is located.
At the same time, Badger has a keen sense of what makes the county marketable already.
“What do we sell here? Our world-class environment,” he said. “There are great opportunities for our county, but the last thing we want to do is denigrate that world-class environment.”