The Baltimore-Washington area economy struggled in 1991 but could be staging a strong recovery by the third quarter of this year, a University of Baltimore economist told the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors' commercial/industrial exposition yesterday.
Michael A. Conte, director of the university's Jacob France Center for Business and Economic Studies, said state and local indexes of leading indicators pushed up sharply in December and January before retreating slightly in February.
"If we see another jump of any magnitude, we're going to call for a major recovery," Mr. Conte said after appearing at the exposition at the Baltimore Convention Center.
Mr. Conte said the Baltimore region will do better than the Maryland suburbs of Washington in the early stages of the recovery.
"They started to come back way before we did, but they had a big decline in their February indicator," Mr. Conte said. "They have a lot of defense-related business in the Maryland D.C. suburbs, and we've really taken a hit in defense."
Mr. Conte said there are still signs of weakness. First-time claims for unemployment, for example, remain high. But he points to strong sales of new homes recently and also to increased electricity use, a rise in new telephone connections, and a modest increase in help-wanted advertising as reasons for optimism.
"They are what we call diffuse measures of economic activity," Mr. Conte said. "If you have someone hooking up a telephone, it means they want to do business, if it's a business. If it's residential, it means they weren't there before."
Robert Kleinpaste, president of Legg Mason Realty Group Inc. in Baltimore, said new home sales were strong in the first quarter. He said industrial real estate markets will strengthen fairly quickly after the recession, but said overbuilt office markets might need as much as five years to lease all empty space.