Ocean City Advances New Economic Development Post Creation

Ocean City Advances New Economic Development Post Creation
File photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — Apart from some semantics and the fine-tuning of the titles, resort officials this week moved closer to a major overhaul of Ocean City’s economic development and marketing teams, including the creation of a new position to direct the town’s strategy.

After expressing the need to place more emphasis and resources on economic development and sales in order to attract more family-friendly events, teams and groups to Ocean City to fill the resort’s hotel rooms and accommodations, the Mayor and Council earlier this year directed City Manager Doug Miller to begin developing a job description for a future director of economic development and sales.

On Tuesday, Miller outlined his proposal for the new Director of Economic Development and Sales, although the official title is yet to be determined. He also proposed an overhaul of the communications and marketing departments with a familiar face in current Communications Manager Jessica Waters poised to lead that reconfigured department.

Miller’s proposals create a new Director of Economic Development and Sales position, which would work with each of the town’s various departments and go out and sell the town’s many amenities to future family-friendly special events, sports tournaments and other groups. The occupant of the position would serve as the chief strategist for all the town’s marketing and sales efforts and coordinate with other departments on all things related to tourism.

Miller also pitched the concept of creating an essentially new position of Director of Communications and Marketing. When long-time Tourism Director Donna Abbott passed away last year, Waters stepped into the breach and assumed her duties along with her own responsibilities as communications manager and handled the interim arrangement with aplomb. Miller’s plan calls for eliminating the old tourism director position and forging it with Waters’ role under the larger title of Director of Communications and Marketing. Under the plan, Waters will continue to work with her team with her increased responsibilities.

“During strategic planning, we developed the concept of a business development director who would go out and sell Ocean City as a destination,” said Miller. “When we lost Donna Abbott, Jessica Waters picked up the tourism director duties and we saw a synergy between communications and marketing. Jessica has done an amazing job. She has had people step and has created a great team.”

Therefore, a new Director of Economic Development and Sales position, a post Miller characterized as a “czar” of sorts for all things related to economic development and tourism, will be created. In addition, the new Director of Communication and Marketing position will handle all messaging and other marketing responsibilities as well as managing the town’s advertising budget.

Councilman Tony DeLuca said he embraced both concepts, particularly the economic development director, or whatever title is eventually attached to it.

“I strongly support the concept of an economic development director,” he said. “We need a heavy, heavy hitter. We need a big hitter that brings the big stuff to us.”

DeLuca also questioned if the discussion about creating a new tourism and marketing structure including the creation of new positions, should have been done in closed session.

“We’re discussing a few things that should probably be discussed in closed session,” he said. “We’ve gone too far the other way. We’re discussing personnel matters and we haven’t even approved this yet.”

However, Miller said, and City Solicitor Heather Stansbury concurred, that it was appropriate to discuss the overhaul of the departments in the open public session.

Overall, the Mayor and Council supported Miller’s proposals, although there were some questions about where the new positions would fall in the town’s hierarchy. As City Manager, Miller would remain at the top of the food chain as essentially the town’s CEO. The new director of economic development and sales would fall somewhere just below Miller in the town’s pecking order, along with Waters and the other department heads. Miller emphasized the overhaul would not impact the town’s operations overseen by the current department heads.

“The department heads will still report to the city manager,” he said. “The only things that go through this new person are sales. It doesn’t change anything we do operationally.”

Mayor Rick Meehan said the salary and benefits package for the new position would need to be commensurate with the job description to attract the right candidate.

“We need to make sure it’s the right salary to attract the right person,” he said. “We need the right person to do this job.”

Councilman John Gehrig, who has pushed the sales position from the beginning, said the new position should be more strategic. He said currently the convention center is a separate entity, along with special events and recreation and parks, among others. Gehrig said the new position would create a strategy for selling all those amenities under one umbrella.

“I put too much emphasis on sales,” he said. “This is really a strategic role. This person dictates the strategy for the whole town. Right now, all of our products are in different stores. Maybe we need a department store to bring all of our products together. This position manages that department store. The department heads still manage their departments. This isn’t a sales job, it’s a strategy job.”

After considerable debate, the Mayor and Council directed Miller to create a flow chart of sorts that will clearly define each position’s role. There were also suggestions on subtle changes to the title of the new position. Miller will more clearly define the proposals and bring back a more detailed plan in a future work session.

Councilman Lloyd Martin said those details can be ironed out, but urged moving forward with the plan sooner rather than later as the town prepares to re-emerge from the current pandemic.

“We need to move forward with something,” he said. “Doug has put together a good plan and we need to move forward with it. We want to come out of COVID with a strong sales and marketing plan.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.