Our current candidates for Mayor and Town Council answer a few questions regarding their thoughts on Easton’s Economic Development Strategy.

Toggle on each question to see the candidates answer. 
We thank all of our elected officials and candidates for their thoughtful responses.

Mayor Bob Willey:  A vibrant downtown  is clean, organized, personal facilities available, traffic flowing smoothly and adequate parking.  Businesses are open, tastefully decorated with cheerful staff.  Everyone needs to feel safe with adequate signage to allow everyone to easily find their destinations.   Along with businesses being open, there should be a variety of locations to enable everyone to find their needs.

Megan Cook: Easton is a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family and maintaining a vibrant downtown is one key component of that. Easton’s town center is the cultural and economic engine of our community and it’s also our brand. It needs to be a strong enough magnet to benefit and attract other businesses in the Easton area. If our brand is strong and healthy it can only benefit every other business and non-profit in Easton.

At the same time, we need to make sure that all our residents and neighbors feel connected to the downtown area and give them a reason to come and explore our town center. We can do that by continuing to host family-friendly community events like our parades, movie nights and summer concerts, along with promoting our larger events like Fire & Ice, Plein Air and the Waterfowl Festival. The addition of the downtown dog park gives neighbors another reason to explore town. We need to make sure we continue to create an even more pedestrian, bike friendly and family friendly town center.

One other key component that helps make a downtown vibrant is housing. Not only would second level housing help alleviate our local housing issue, but increased foot traffic helps give a sense of vitality and energy and reduces our reliance on cars. We need to promote Easton as a safe, walkable and bikeable community.

Downtown Easton is vibrant and successful because of the Town of Easton, local merchants and businesses, economic development and non-profit organizations work together to bring citizens and visitors to the town center.

Al Silverstein: Downtown is the heart of our community, it serves as a place to enjoy a meal, connect with friends and neighbors, browse the local shops,enjoy community art and special events and conduct business. A vibrant downtown has businesses that contribute to the economy, provides opportunities to connect people and represents our history and culture.

Frank Gunsallus: A vibrant and successful downtown is characterized by a mix of uses, walkability, welcoming public spaces, and a strong local economy. To ensure Easton’s success, we need to focus on creating more access to downtown (from all parts of town) with well-designed streetscapes and public spaces. Supporting a mix of retail, entertainment, cultural amenities, and residential options can attract visitors and create a sense of place. A strong local economy with small businesses, independent retailers, and locally owned restaurants can create jobs and contribute to the local tax base. Finally, a downtown that reflects the community’s identity and values can foster a sense of pride and belonging while driving economic growth.

Maureen Curry: What makes a downtown vibrant and successful is a healthy blend of arts, dining and retail options. In addition, walkability, accessible parking, and attractive streetscaping are important. “Second story” living options add strength to a vibrant downtown. We need to focus on keeping downtown relevant and healthy. This means we need to champion our local business community by giving them the tools they need to succeed. Whether its information regarding programs available to them, training workshops, tax incentives or hosting events that bring visitors to town; all these things will lead to future success for our business community, residents and visitors alike.

Ron Engle: There are many things that I believe are critical to making a Downtown vibrant and successful. The first and most important element is that visitors know that the downtown exists and what they will find when they visit.
The businesses must do their part which includes being open at the peak time periods that tourists will be present. That the streets and sidewalks present a clean and inviting appearance. Parking must be readily available and convenient tour of town and local shoppers. Restaurants should have hours that allow for visitors to both shop and eat. Meaning that they should expect to have patrons through the entirely of the afternoon. All of the above must exist to ensure that all visitors have a meaningful and successful shopping trip and visitation to the Downtown area.
The Easton Economic Development Corporation has the key role in this process. Their role is to be the traffic cop for all of these elements. They should ensure that the businesses do their part. They should control and create innovative public information campaigns to attract shoppers and visitors. They should coordinate with the town public works to empty trash receptacles often enough that they are not overflowing during key times. Economic Development should be aggressive in creating numerous musical events and entertainment on the streets to attract even more visitors.

David Montgomery:

A vibrant and successful downtown is one with a good mix of interesting and profitable retail stores, restaurants and small offices.  A good test is how well-filled the streets and restaurants are on pleasant evenings, and that there is brisk traffic through stores and at lunchtime.  Longer open hours for retail stores would be a big boost.  We need to focus on the availability of affordable retail space for locally owned businesses and prevent diversion of their customers into big box stores around the periphery.

Mayor Bob Willey:  Economic Development starts with Planning and Zoning mapping the area to be called downtown.  Then the necessary rules to allow for business to operate.  Infrastructure needs satisfied to allow for smooth business operation i.e. trash pick-up, water, sewer, sidewalks, pleasant walking areas. etc.  A variety of shops and entertainment options to bring people downtown not only to shop but spend some time socializing.  This would include theatres, restaurants, recreation sites, etc.

Megan Cook: Economic development includes both attracting and retaining businesses and creating a community that attracts investment. Efforts to make Easton economically viable will lead to a healthier environment community wide. Creating jobs and boosting incomes benefits our residents and community. Higher paying jobs positively impact our local families and increased tax revenue help the Town invest in projects that positively impact our community and make Easton a great place to work and raise a family.

Economic development provides citizens, businesses and non-profit organizations with opportunities to develop and prosper.

Al Silverstein: At this time Easton’s number One Priority should be to get a new Regional Hospital funded and built. It is vital to our literal and economic survival. As Mayor of
Easton I will take on the fight to get a new Regional Hospital in Easton. We should also focus on creating a diverse downtown that has employment, residential, entertainment,
shopping, and dining experiences. These factors will make Easton a major destination that will draw people to our downtown.

Frank Gunsallus: Economic development is not just about numbers and figures. It’s about creating opportunities that allow people to build a better future for themselves and their families. It’s about creating a thriving community that offers a high quality of life for everyone. Economic development means more jobs, more local businesses, and a
stronger economy. It means more opportunities for people to succeed and thrive. It means a community that is vibrant and full of life, where people can come together to celebrate their culture, traditions, and values. By supporting economic development, we can create a community where people feel proud to live, work, and raise their families.
It’s about building a future that we can all be excited about, where everyone has a chance to reach their full potential. So, lets work together to create a bright andprosperous future for our community!

Maureen Curry: By definition, economic development is “programs, policies or activities that seek to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community.” It is important to Easton because it harnesses resources between the public and private sectors, improving the opportunities for our residents, increasing our tax base, allowing sustainable economic growth.

Ron Engle:  To me, economic development is the creation of activities that result in a net gain of money into the community.  This creates an economic base. These are the activities that generate jobs, and income in town. It is the decisive role for the economic growth of the area. It is also the engine that drives the economy of the community. Commerce is critical to every community. Without commerce, businesses die, and communities disappear.

David Montgomery: Economic development should focus on maintaining and growing small, local businesses that fit the character of Easton and provide jobs for local workers, not on importing businesses from the outside.  Businesses locating in the Mistletoe and Talbot Commerce Parks can also provide good jobs and wages.   Growing in this way does not require growth in population.  Healthy economic growth is consistent with population growth no higher than the Comprehensive Plan’s objective of 1% per year. This will allow us to keep our small town and rural character.

Mayor Bob Willey: I would start with a meeting of all of the stakeholders including business owners to outline their needs, establish timelines with specific dates and ideas, mention obstacles, what do they need to be successful.  Then the Town responds to the needs with infrastructure issues, future development ideas, Planning and Development process, and so forth.  Get it on the table and everyone address concerns, be open minded and tell it like it is.  Only when people speak their mind in a respectful way will you get others  to come along.

Megan Cook: It’s important to engage the locally owned businesses to make sure their perspective and needs are understood when making decisions that affect our community. Since their time is valuable and focused on their businesses, we need to make sure we give them a variety of ways to be engaged and informed. Offering both in-person meetings along with visits, emails and regular updates, allows each business to remain engaged in ways that best benefit them. The Easton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) engages our business and non-profit communities in multiple ways which allow for organizations to be heard.

Al Silverstein: From my thirty-eight year career in Economic Development I know it helps to create a strong and sustainable local economy. It helps create jobs, boost business
growth and promote investment in the community. It encourages entrepreneurship and small business development. Economic development helps build a stronger community.

Frank Gunsallus: Local businesses are the lifeblood of our community, and their success is critical to our economic development. To engage these businesses in the city;s decision-making process, we can establish regular meetings, foster open communication, encourage participation in public meetings, and provide incentives. By involving local businesses in decision-making, we can ensure their voices are heard, and their needs are addressed. This will create a more supportive environment for businesses to thrive, leading toincreased economic growth and prosperity for the entire community.

Maureen Curry: Your newsletter is a great start! However, it will take some “person to person” visits to let the businesses know that you want/value their input. My suggestion would be to create several ‘town-hall’ settings where businesses can come and share their views. The key to success will be the follow-up and the continuation of the dialogue. This should be a joint effort with the EastonEDC, Town of Easton, elected officials and the businesses.

Ron Engle:  The businesses must believe that they are a critical part of the economy and that their participation is critical for the health of the community. They must be met with on a regular basis. Their contributions need to be recognized to keep their attention and enthusiasm. Their suggestions should be addressed in such a manner to make them feel good for making them and that they are contributing to the solution. They need rapid feedback on events that involve them or their general location. Successes must be brought to their attention to encourage them to up their game.

David Montgomery: The town council and other agencies need to meet more regularly with owners of locally-owned businesses to learn about their problems and priorities.  These should be in informal settings, perhaps luncheons for a dozen or so representatives of the town and business owners.  Public meetings like those on the Comprehensive Plan should be continued.  Greater transparency in town government would also greatly aid local businesses.

Mayor Bob Willey:  I would try to bring to Easton the best of the best ideas I have seen in visits to other towns.  A well planned community, safe and well maintained, a variety of tastefully decorated shops and shopkeepers who go out of their way to be helpful, adequate facilities, easy to navigate the streets with ample parking and helpful signage.  To bring visitors in, I would have a significant schedule of a variety of events for all ages, museums, parks, theatres and playgrounds.

Megan Cook: Easton is the thriving center of the Eastern Shore and one of our best qualities is our small-town charm. We need to continue to highlight our cultural events, our thriving arts community, and rich local historic character like our Hill community to attract visitors so they can experience the best of what Easton has to offer. We need to incorporate marketing strategies such as social media in addition to print advertising to help promote tourism offerings. We also need to make sure we have amenities such as maps and signage, public restrooms, and an accessible visitors center that will enhance our out-of-town guests’ experience.

Partnerships and coordinated efforts between the Town of Easton, the EEDC, Talbot County Tourism and our local Chamber of Commerce will support tourism efforts by providing infrastructure and opportunities to facilitate and enhance the tourist experience.

Al Silverstein: As a twenty year member of the Talbot County Tourism Board I have demonstrated my support for the tourism industry in Easton and Talbot County. As a result of my experience on the Talbot County Tourism Board I recognize the significant economic benefits that tourism has on our economy. As Mayor of Easton I pledge to work with the representatives of the tourism industry to make sure that the Lodging Tax money the Town of Easton receives is reinvested in a manner that enhances the tourism industry.

Frank Gunsallus: Tourism is a vital part of our city’s economy, and we need to support it to create jobs, drive growth, and show off our community’s unique charm. We can do this by making our city attractive and welcoming, collaborating with tourism partners like the Easton EDC/ Discover Easton, marketing our city effectively, supporting local events, and investing in tourism infrastructure.

Maureen Curry: The most effective way to support tourism in Easton is through partnerships and collaboration. Without a significant increase in the tourism marketing budget, exploring public/private partnerships offers the best “bang for the buck.” There are several private entities that are spending impressive amounts of marketing dollars on promoting Easton as a destination. EEDC should be the clearing house for all things promoting Easton as a destination, similar to what the county tourism does for Talbot. There are also state and regional tourism entities which can help.

Ron Engle: I already incorporate all the strategies outlined in question 1. I partner with the EDC and participate in meetings with the businesses periodically so that they are readily aware that the Town cares about them and is working them to improve their success. I regularly participate intheir planned activities to reinforce those good feelings. I also serve on the Board of Directors.

David Montgomery: A healthy and vibrant downtown, with small local retail and hospitality businesses, that retains the smalltown character and charm of Easton is the best way to attract tourism.  Our interesting mix of museums and galleries also contribute a great deal.  Events organized by EEDC are a great contribution.  Supporting tourism also requires keeping population density low enough around Easton that traffic jams do not deter tourism, while encouraging additional business and residential growth within walking distance of downtown.  Public safety is an important component and needs to continue to be maintained at a high level.

Mayor Bob Willey: We have a strong downtown core so I would look for ways to expand the core and replicate the best ideas.  I would divide the Town in zones such as the Dover Street corridor from Aurora Street to Route 50.  Invite businesses who may be interested in relocating, possibly offer some incentives, and improvement in amenities and streetscape.  Involve the local residents for their ideas, different business leaders, government leaders and, most of all, the financial investors to come together and make a plan for expected success that would have something for everyone.  Keep tweaking the plan until all objectives have been met and then start over in another section of Town.

Several of the questions require similar answers but that is to be expected.  We are still a small Town with the same folks involved in more than one area.  A big problem in the past has been to not involve people in the early planning.  We tell them what they should want instead of listening to their needs and ideas.  A good approach with any of the above would be patterned after the Comprehensive Plan process listen to ideas, research solutions, look for funding, update/upgrade the rules, get everyone’s buy-in and proceed.   

Megan Cook: Easton has a few locations ripe for redevelopment, but I believe that the Dover Street/Rail to Trail corridor is the largest opportunity we have. Just a short distance from our historic town center lies a vibrant, historical and cultural area. To the southeast is The Hill neighborhood, which is the oldest free African American neighborhoods in the United States. The residential neighborhood has many historic homes and 2 historic churches dedicated by Frederick Douglass. The area along East Ave and to the east of the trail south to the Perdue property has a number of redevelopment locations ripe for mixed-use development with residential and commercial components.

Yet any redevelopment of that area of town has to ensure that the longtime residents of our neighborhoods are not displaced. It’s important to engage the community in the planning to make sure that redevelopment is inclusive and meets the needs and desires of the community.

With affordable housing being an important need in our community, the 6-acre Perdue property presents an opportunity for affordable multi-family homes within walking distance to downtown. The multi-building Roof Center on Dover Road could be a hub for restaurants, entertainment and small businesses.

Situated on one of the gateways into town, this area, which is adjacent to a historic neighborhood, is ready to attract new businesses and create affordable homes and jobs for our residents.

Al Silverstein: As Mayor of Easton, I would make redevelopment, revitalization, adaptive reuse and renewal of properties a priority of the town’s economic development initiative. I would begin the process by identifying those properties and developing relationships with their owners. A great example of redevelopment would be the repurposing of the current Hospital. I would have our planning staff research successful hospital redevelopment projects for the Mayor, Council and community leaders to review. The next step would be to visit those properties and determine what process was used to achieve their results.

Frank Gunsallus: Easton has many areas with great opportunities for redevelopment, including downtown, industrial areas, and the waterfront. To kickstart the process, Easton needs to further develop the comprehensive plan, engage stakeholders, conduct feasibility studies, secure funding, and establish partnerships. This will help create a collaborative and strategic approach to ensure that redevelopment efforts benefit the community. By transforming these areas, we can create new opportunities for businesses, residents, and visitors while preserving Easton’s unique character and charm.

Maureen Curry: Obviously, the first one is Easton Point. It would be truly beneficial to Easton if we were able to connect Easton Point to the downtown. There was a preliminary plan done in 2017; let’s review it and utilize it to reopen the discussion with the current and any future property owners in the designated area. The second area is the Hill; the residential redevelopment possibilities are exciting and already underway. Both of these projects should be managed by the EEDC along with TOE Planning & Zoning Department. The inclusion of the public in this process is vital; the Easton Point/Port Street project and the Hill project will be transformational for Easton.

Ron Engle:  I believe the two biggest opportunities are the modernization of the Aurora Street corridor and the East Side along Dover Street by the grain silos. These are very old commercial area that can be redesigned to enhance the community. There many opportunities for both residential and
commercial growth. Perdue is examining the removal of the silos and installing a significant residential development. This is a gold opportunity for the Planning and Zoning Commission to ensure that new development fits within the them of the neighborhood and the town at large.
There also be ample “affordable and workplace” housing included in this development. The Aurora Street corridor is ideal for creating a visually appealing commercial area. This would replace the hodge podge assortment of business establishments.

David Montgomery: The most important places for redevelopment are in and around downtown.  It is possible to build attractive housing for qualified low-income families using federal tax credits on land owned by the town. Zoning and fees should favor projects in the Easton downtown core that incorporate “affordable” units in mixed-income developments.  The old Safeway parking lot and building and the Perdue property are ripe for these kinds of residential development, and small, local businesses could logically be mixed in with residential buildings in the blocks east and south of downtown. Much of the housing south of Dover and east of Aurora is in dreadful condition and families living there need to be aided to move into new, close-by low-income housing while those neighborhoods are rehabilitated or rebuilt.  Gentrification needs to be avoided so that current residents are not displaced.

Make sure you check out these election-related events and debates!

On April 16, 2023, the Town of Easton Mayoral candidates debated at the Avalon Theatre. Please check out the recording here; https://talbotspy.org/spy-long-form-mayor-of-easton-election-town-hall-meeting/ 

Stay informed! And vote on May 2.