Back in the 1990s, the good people of Oregon were concerned about the influx of California residents moving permanently into their state. Lower taxes, cheaper housing, and greater recreational opportunities were luring them there. Imagine that!
Oregonians decided to discourage such migration by publicizing the negative aspects (real and imagined) of the state, especially the number of rainy days to which they were annually subjected.
Their writings and pronouncements made the Beaver State sound like a northern rainforest, or, at the very least, offered an explanation as to why beavers felt so comfortable living there.
Thirty years later, we in the Delaware coastal region might want to take a page from Oregon’s playbook to devise a campaign aimed at discouraging migration from neighboring states. And, if we are really lucky, it might create a cadre of people actively opposed to moving here, who, for want of a better phrase, we might term “never coasters.”
How might that be done?
Let’s take your average Pennamite, as one would have been known in the 18th century. He or she is considering a 21st century move to what is currently a corn field but will shortly metamorphose into a housing development.
The possibility of moving to a semi-rural area is appealing to our prototypic property purchaser, whom we will call Samuel Dukes. He likes the quaint way small and mid-size towns here call themselves “cities,” refer to their 4-lane roads as “highways,” and see their restaurants as constituting a Culinary Coast.
But more importantly, Mr. Dukes is attracted by the “perks” that come from being a Delaware resident. One of these is the state’s tax-free shopping and dining, wherein the list price of an item or service does not increase when one is ready to pay the bill.
What he may not realize, and we need to publicize, is that this also means there is no value-added tax. As a result, the true worth of an item being purchased is difficult to ascertain. For example, if a chef begins with raw oysters and then turns them into Oysters Rockefeller, how much more is the restaurant justified in charging and do we need to be John D. to afford it?
Samuel Dukes may also think twice about the local restaurant scene when he examines a menu from one of the highly-rated eating establishments in this edible Eden. Entrée prices were trending, as they say, well into the 30s even before the post-pandemic inflation. Coastal economists locate the beginning of this surge at the point where restaurant “food” transitioned to “cuisine.”
We also need to raise questions in Mr. Dukes’ mind regarding the cost of housing in the region. While overall, it is probably cheaper than where he currently lives, that is relative. And one does not always like one’s relatives.
But price may not be a good measure of value, as noted above. Location (often expressed as “location, location, location”) is a better determinant. And that location for interstate migrants is increasingly becoming wholesale subdivisions with retail prices, with costs often augmented by HOA (Hand Over your Assets) considerations.
Not exactly the quaintness Mr. Dukes had in mind. Does he really want to live in a housing development with a nonsensical moniker like Pacific Mountain Vistas?
Finally, we should introduce issues regarding the quality of the region’s recreational opportunities.
For instance, while admittedly there are sandy beaches that one can access without payment, the same cannot be said for adjacent parking.
In addition, although it appears clean, the water is in all likelihood heavily polluted from the 997 New York City subway cars, 86 army tanks, Navy destroyer, and “retired” Cape May-Lewes ferry — to name a few — that have been dumped offshore.
Meant to form underwater reefs, they please no one more than the fish who make them home, and consequently have their eel-mail sent there.
Furthermore, unlike some of the trendier beaches elsewhere on the East Coast, there are no offshore wind turbines on which to fixate. Thus, one looks out on a sea of nothingness.
If the flaws in terms of taxation, housing, and recreation do not deter Samuel Dukes from moving to the coastal region, it may be necessary to play our trump card (that’s trump with a lower-case “t”) — the fear of commercialization.
As the number of local micro-breweries continues to multiply and they combine with other commercial ventures, it won’t be long before we’ll see tanker trucks filled with ale, beer, or wine clogging our highways, pipelines crisscrossing the county to bring the product inland and to the Port of Wilmington, and distilleries spewing their alcoholic vapors into the pure coastal air.
And, undoubtedly, those vapors will make us reach for a facial mask of a different type and purpose than the ones to which we have become accustomed recently.
A nightmare scenario like that should do it. Please close the door on your way out, Mr. Dukes. Thanks for visiting, but choosing not to reside in, Coastal Delaware.
Mike Berger is a freelance writer and retired university administrator with a home in Lewes. Contact him at email@example.com.