OCEAN CITY — Congressman Andy Harris visited Ocean City last Friday to discuss the economy and survey the impact of Hurricane Irene.
While some feared echoes of the storm might stifle business on Labor Day weekend, Ocean City saw bigger crowds this year than almost any other holiday weekend this decade.
“He’s looking at all issues within his district,” said Mayor Rick Meehan of Harris’ visit.
With a beautiful, September day at the beach as a backdrop, Meehan joined Harris for a stroll down the Boardwalk discussing topics like the environment and the job market.
“We’re combining business and pleasure,” said Harris.
Just in time for Labor Day weekend, Harris remarked on how well the town seemed to be doing after being completely shut down only one week before due to the mandatory evacuation in response to Irene. The Boardwalk was busy and active and everyone the congressmen met during his walk seemed enthusiastic about Ocean City. Harris noted the brisk business that the Boardwalk shops were doing.
“There are plenty of people working here in Ocean City this weekend,” he said.
Harris added that Labor Day was the “last chance for many businesses to make some money” and was glad to see a healthy crowd already in town.
The official headcount for the weekend reached 292,911 visitors, one of the highest numbers this decade. Meehan wasn’t surprised by the resort’s quick recovery from ghost town one weekend to bustling tourist destination the next.
“We know that Ocean City is a big economic generator,” he said.
According to Meehan, Ocean City is a big help to all job markets in the area. During the summer boom, seasonal hires generate a huge number of temporary jobs, which Meehan said helps absorb unemployment.
“There are a lot of opportunities here there might not be in other areas,” he added.
Harris agreed that Ocean City was doing better than many in his district and the country at large. According to Harris, policies need to change on a national level or the country risks screeching to an economic halt.
“We had zero job creation [today],” he said. “We’ve got to try something new.”
One problem, said Harris, is that the country isn’t projecting a business-friendly environment.
“We need to create an environment where businesses and job creators want to create jobs,” he said.
Harris expressed doubt over some of President Barrack Obama’s current strategies.
“We can’t afford that anymore,” he said. “I hope he [Obama] takes a new direction.”
Those changes need to start immediately, according to Harris. He pointed out that it takes a massive amount of money and effort to chip away at the unemployment rate, and that if the country wants to get back to the historical average of 5 percent unemployment, as opposed to the current 9.1 percent, cooperation in government is key.
“The president and the House [of Representatives] need to work together on a new direction,” said Harris.
While he may have been troubled about the course of the nation, Harris reiterated that Ocean City seemed to be weathering all storms, both figurative and literal, well. He confessed that he feared Irene might have caused Labor Day weekend to be a “wash-out” but his trip left him confident that the town was on solid footing.
“We needed that,” Harris said. “[Labor Day] is a major source of revenue.”
While Irene didn’t tear the town down, Meehan wasn’t one to downplay the hurricane either.
“We still had a significant storm,” he said. “Fortunately, we didn’t have any real damage.”
Though the decision to close Ocean City was tough, Meehan defended the mandatory evacuation of Ocean City, and noted that he would make the same call under similar conditions in the future.