The Baltimore and Washington common market may be feeling a recessionary pinch much like that of the rest of the nation. But, as far as the buying power of its residents is concerned, the area may be better able to withstand the pain.
In fact, the Baltimore and Washington region has been ranked No. 1 in household buying income among the nation's top 10 market areas, according to a report released yesterday by the Washington/Baltimore Regional Association (WBRA).
The group, a business advocacy organization, promotes the notion of a combined market area for Baltimore and Washington. An official common market designation is expected from the U.S. Census Bureau in 1992.
The Baltimore and Washington area's median buying income after taxes was reported as $39,324, slightly ahead of the second-place San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose common market, which had a median buying income of $39,032.
In third place, with a median buying income of $36,445, was the Massachusetts metropolitan area of Boston, Lawrence and Salem. In last place was the Houston, Galveston and Brazoria County area, with a median buying income of $30,581.
It is the second year that the Baltimore and Washington area was ranked No. 1. San Francisco edged out Baltimore and Washington for first place in 1988.
The ranking is based on data from the 1991 Survey of Buying Power conducted by the retail trade journal Sales and Marketing Management. The survey focuses on income for 1990, the most recent data available, and does not adjust for differences in costs of living among the 10 metropolitan areas.
The survey also does not adjust for inflation. The metropolitan areas that are ranked in the survey are the largest in the nation and were chosen on the basis of population.
Despite the survey's shortcomings, Robert T. Grow, executive director of the WBRA, notes that the ranking reflects some of the impact of the current recession, which began in the fall of 1989. And it shows how insulated the area is from downward turns in the economy, he says.
"We're certainly one of the wealthiest markets in the nation," Grow says. "It's been said that we're not recession proof, but we are recession resistant."
Still, Grow says that by the time the recession is over, San Francisco again could nudge the Baltimore and Washington common market out of the No. 1 spot.
Traditionally, the Baltimore and Washington area has weathered the worst of recessions because of its high concentration of government and service-related jobs. The current recession and federal budget deficit has begun to cut into those traditional employment centers.
San Francisco, meanwhile, is dominated by private employers, particularly insurance firms. The area also is considered attractive to venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. Approximately 90 percent of all its businesses have fewer than 25 employees.
Donald P. Hutchinson, president of Maryland Growth Associates Inc., which is a backer of the WBRA, says the Baltimore and Washington area ranked high because "our region contains one of the nation's best educated and most productive work forces."