Tilghman Island holds a storied place in the history of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, as the epicenter of a booming oyster industry. But much has changed since 19th-century watermen were harvesting 15 million bushels of oysters a year from a bay brimming with shellfish to send, by steamer and rail, to diners all over the country.
Oystering remained a good and secure livelihood until the late 20th century, when environmental, disease and other factors depleted those famous oyster beds and Tilghman’s population dwindled from thousands of fishers and packers to around 800 residents. Many young people leave the island in search of jobs; the school is struggling to stay open; and the local bank recently closed. A way of life and a centuries-old economy are threatened with extinction.
Since 2005, the Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC) on Tilghman Island has offered community education about the Chesapeake, its animal inhabitants and aquaculture. In 2017, with a $550,000 loan from LISC, PWEC was able to expand, incorporating an apprenticeship program designed to help bring quality jobs, and well-trained workers, back to the island. And by teaching existing residents who harvest the mollusks about new aquaculture techniques, PWEC is working to advance a sustainable oyster industry and keep people employed.
The LISC loan was made through a new financing tool comprised of New Markets Tax Credits for smaller economic development projects. Known as the Growing Rural Communities Fund (GRCF), it allows LISC to support initiatives that are overlooked or rejected by other lenders—because the community or project is too small or risky, or may lie outside of an area where banks are required to invest. And as on Tilghman Island, when local banks close, the door to financing for community projects closes, too.
Seeing the demand in small communities, Rural LISC and Northern Trust partnered to create GRCF. The fund offers seven-year, mini-permanent loans, from $250,000 to $2 million, with a two percent interest rate and a three-year interest-only period.
When the Phillips Wharf center reached out to Rural LISC, the loan was one of the last available options. But the doors that have opened are inviting in all kinds of opportunity. “Through the apprentice program, the Phillips Wharf Environmental Center will preserve the island’s culture, create quality jobs and attract young people back to their homes on the island,” said LISC vice president Suzanne Anarde. “We couldn’t be more thrilled with the results.”
Photo credit: Courtesy of Phillips Wharf
Private Sector Support
Public Sector Support
Executive Director: Suzanne Anarde
402 Highway 50 W
Fowler, CO 81039