WASHINGTON – Salisbury will soon join the ranks of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — in the eyes of federal statisticians, at least.
After showing a population spike in the 2000 census, Salisbury and its outlying towns are slated be designated an official “metropolitan area” this year, joining a club with 337 members whose populations run as high as 21.2 million.
The Salisbury urbanized area (population 57,986) doesn’t even come close to those figures, but to many in the region, it feels like the Big City.
“Like when you’re driving down Highway 13, there’s shopping centers, offices and then in the summer . . . there’s the traffic,” said Brad Bellacicco of the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce.
The city of Salisbury and Wicomico County have boomed in recent decades. The region qualified for metropolitan area status when its population surpassed 50,000 people and population density exceeded 1,000 people per square mile
Officially, the designation is just for record keeping and statistics — Salisbury, for example, will now be included in studies ranging from private building permits to deaths from cardiovascular disease — but it could also mean more money and recognition.
“Being identified is important because it puts you on a list,” said Census Bureau’s Michael Ratcliffe. “And when companies are looking for a new location, you’ll be on that initial list.”
The new title could also open the door to more federal funds.
“When the Census Bureau blesses you this way, the transportation planners say, `We have to go to Salisbury now,’ and it’s whole lot easier getting mass transit money,” said Jack Lenox, planning director for Salisbury and Wicomico. “We have more weight to throw around.”
That weight has been accumulating for decades. The county’s population jumped 56 percent in the last 30 years from 54,236 in 1970 to 84,644 in 2000. The city supports the state’s second-busiest airport and port, flying 135,000 passengers a year and shipping $200 million in goods annually.
Downtown, the city sports a state university, a zoo with almost 400 animals, a regional hospital and a civic center that has hosted Bob Dylan, Def Leppard and Disney on Ice. Salisbury was even home to a major celebrity — Linda Hamilton, who starred in “The Terminator” with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Washington region, Baltimore, Cumberland and Hagerstown are already designated metropolitan areas. Salisbury will be the only Maryland area to gain the designation this year, but it will not be official until the U.S. Office of Management and Budget makes the announcement.
“That should come later this spring, no later than June,” Ratcliffe said.
Bellacicco attributes the city’s growth and allure to its location.
“You have the crossing of U.S. highways 50 and 13. You have the (Wicomico) river nearby. It’s ideal,” he said.
Public Works Director John Jacobs, however, thinks it was the sewage system.
“If you build it they will come,” he said. “Victor Hugo wrote 15 pages worth about the sewers and how they changed Paris (in “Les Miserables”). That’s exactly what happened here.”