Sussex County Delaware

Sussex Beat, Oct. 27, 1999

Still a Dilemma

NOTE: Sussex Beat is a mix of news, analysis and commentary by Eric Magill, publisher of Sussex County Online.


Eric Magill, Sussex County Online

SC Online

Brain-Drain Still a County Dilemma

Since I graduated from Indian River High School in 1978, growth has been rapidly changing Sussex County.

No longer do you have to spend half a day traveling to shops and malls in Dover and Salisbury, Md., to do any significant shopping. No longer do you have to drive across the Bay Bridge to Annapolis to find a McDonald's. No longer do the beach resorts close up completely for the winter.

One thing hasn't changed, though, and that's the continued dearth of decent employment that results in the Brain-Drain of this county's best and brightest students every year, students who invariably do not return to the county, where their contributions are needed most.

Brain-Drain was on the minds of many business, education and political leaders at the annual Business & Education Conference at Del Tech in Georgetown on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 1999.

The average wage in Sussex County is currently less than $9 per hour, or gross pay of less than $19,000 per year. That's barely $1,500 a month gross, which, after taxes, means the typical family must have two working parents to make a decent living.

To find better jobs, Sussex Countians are faced with two options -- leave their hometowns for the cities or make their own job by starting a business of their own.

The second option is risky and out of reach financially for most students coming out of high school and college, so most leave the county for better prospects, creating the Brain-Drain syndrome that guts a region of its most talented people.

Sussex County has had this problem for years. Most of my high school friends no longer live in the county, instead living in Wilmington, Washington, D.C. and other Mid-Atlantic cities offering better pay.

They left for college or the armed forces and eventually settled elsewhere, leaving a big void in leadership just as our generation should be moving into positions of authority in the county.

I, myself, left after graduating from college in 1982 because the only newspaper reporting jobs available in Sussex County then were for weekly newspapers paying $140 a week. The newspapers in the county still pay a pittance for jobs that require a college education and years of experience to understand the complex and varied issues of modern life.

The only way I was able to bring my family back was to create my own job building an online travel guide called Beach-Net! ( for a Fenwick Island publisher. Eventually, that experience enabled me to create my own Internet publishing businesses.

I returned to Ocean View with my wife and young daughter in 1996 after living 8 years in a town that was on the brink of death due to the Brain-Drain that left an aging population that couldn't support the local economy or school system.

Despite all of the growth in Sussex County, we are seeing some of the same trends here with an aging population fueled by retirees with no connections to the area, its traditions and its schools. The Brain-Drain we have always had only exacerbates the problem.

During the Business and Education Conference, leaders were presented with four possible scenarios for the county's future direction:

  1. What Will Be, Will Be -- Allowing the county to grow haphazardly.

  2. Sussex Goes High Technology -- Trying to draw high tech firms and their high-end jobs to the county.

  3. The 3 Rs: Retail, Rural and Retirees -- Pretty much what we have now.

  4. Balance By Design -- Balancing robust economic growth, better jobs and housing with the preservation of the quality of life we all enjoy here.

There's no question our quality of life is appealing to young families. We may not have the glitz and glitter of the big cities, but I've talked to numerous friends who would love to move here if they could only figure out a way to support their families.

I want my daughter to be able to stay in Sussex County when she graduates from high school if she wants to. But that will only happen if we can reverse the Brain-Drain symptoms that have siphoned off so many of our future leaders.

Oyster Eat a Local Legacy

The Georgetown Fire Company's annual Oyster Eat has been chosen as a Delaware Tradition for the Library of Congress' "Local Legacies" project by Delaware Rep. Michael N. Castle (R).

The Local Legacies project was created to celebrate the Library of Congress' 200th anniversary in the year 2000.

"A local legacy is a cultural tradition, such as an event, traditional art form or activity which is important to a community, state or region and captures significant aspects of our cultural heritage," Rep. Castle said.

"We are lucky. Delaweare is a state full of long, rich traditions which accurately personify the various degrees of culture throughout our state. From Returns Day, Halloween parades, Newark Community Day to the Oyster Eat, Delaware is truly a melting pot of diverse customs and practices."

Michael Miller, manager of the Delaware Folklife Program, is seeking photos of past Oyster Eats for inclusion with the program's information on the event. Miller can be contacted at 302-739-4413 or by mail at the Delaware Wildlife Program, Division of Parks and Recreation, 89 Kings Hwy., Dover, DE 19901.

Your Opinion ...

You can voice your opinion on Sussex County issues in the Sussex County Online Forum or cast your vote on various Sussex County issues on our online poll. Just follow the links below to make your voice heard and your vote count:

Sites Not to be Missed ...

The Delaware Office of Planning Coordination web site at includes the controversial document, "Managing Growth in 21st Century Delaware: Strategies for State Policies and Spending", that has Sussex County officials up in arms. Also posted on the site are the Delaware Assistance Handbook for Local Governments and the LUPA Reviews Page detailing proposed land use changes under review under the Land Use Planning Act.

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