Wicomico County will apply for $3.2 million through the Rural Maryland Economic Development Fund to create jobs, maintain and grow commercial flight service and further develop the Salisbury-Wicomico Regional Airport.
The money will be used, in part, to “offer a pipeline of talent regionally” by teaming up with the Department of Engineering and Aviation Sciences at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to offer aviation maintenance technician training, Dave Ryan, Director of Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development, told County Council members.
“The purpose is to build that foundation so we can really create solid economic growth and development at the airport,” he said.
The Federal Aviation Administration-certified course would require 1,900 hours of training through UMES. Those credits can be transferred to the university for more training in Aviation Sciences.
UMES offers a Bachelor of Science program in Aviation Sciences with concentrations in aviation electronics, aviation management, aviation software and professional pilot, so there are opportunities to learn other jobs, Ryan said. It is the only campus in Maryland offering a four-year degree in aviation.
The hope is the program will help Salisbury keep its daily commercial flights that are offered by American Airlines to its hubs in Philadelphia and Charlotte.
In addition to training and job creation, Ryan said the grant would be used to create a strategic plan for the airport that will align with the facility’s existing master plan.
The money also will be used to pursue “shovel-ready sites” for development at the airport, that would mean having sites designed, engineered and permitted in advance for future users. Doing that would reduce the time to start construction by 12 to 18 months, Ryan said.
County Council members applauded the plan for the airport and agreed to write a letter of support for the grant through a fund created earlier this year by Gov. Larry Hogan. In February, the governor announced he would use $50 million to establish a Rural Maryland Economic Development Fund to boost economic development activity, stimulate private sector investment and grow jobs.
The fund is to be split evenly among the five tri-county councils in the state, including the Tri-County Council for the Lower Eastern Shore which includes members from Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties.
Locally, the Lower Shore counties agreed to split their $10 million three ways and pursue their own economic development projects rather than focus on one large regional project, Ryan said.
Eligible uses of the funds include developing infrastructure such as utilities, transportation, and broadband to support the attraction, retention, or expansion of businesses, as well as infrastructure related to specific industry sector development including manufacturing, cyber security, and the life sciences.
Additionally, the funding can be used for workforce development and attraction of talent, as well as projects that stimulate entrepreneurship and innovation. Planning and feasibility studies are also eligible, as well as certain capital and operational expenses. The funds may not be used for any direct incentives to the private sector.
The grant program is designed to be flexible and allow each rural council to determine the best use of funds within the program’s guidelines in coordination with the counties they represent, Hogan said.