The past year has been a tough one for Maryland's economy. Thousands of jobs have been lost in key industries. Retail sales have been depressed. The real estate industry has been in the doldrums and building activity has plummeted in most areas.
That's the bad news. The good news is that the worst may be behind us. No one expects a return to the heady growth rates of the 1980s. But state development officials and outside economists are pointing to promising signs that the state's economy may be poised for a turnaround.
In October, the latest month for which data is available, the jobless rate was down just 0.6 percentage points from the beginning of the year. Another bright spot is a 33 percent increase in international trade through BWI Airport and a 5.2 percent increase in general cargo through the Port of Baltimore. State exports to Europe are up 41 percent over last year.
And the WEFA Group, an economic forecasting organization in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., is forecasting 1.5 percent growth in income and employment in the first quarter of 1992. DRI/McGraw Hill, another forecaster for the state, expects a 0.5 percent increase in first quarter employment and a 0.7 percent gain in disposable income.
Granted, these are thin threads to hold onto, but this represents the most encouraging snapshot of Maryland's economy in some time.
One of the biggest drags on Maryland's economic health is something that doesn't appear in charts and graphs -- consumer confidence. Marylanders, like consumers across the nation, are deeply concerned about the economy. But that concern should be tempered by measured optimism. Interest rates are at their lowest point in years. Inflation is low. The state's economy is fundamentally strong. Consumers shouldn't lose sight of this in the sea of economic doom and gloom engulfing the country.