Md. economy set for '93 rebound, state predicts Gradual recovery is expected

January 07, 1993|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Staff Writer

Maryland's secretary of economic development said yesterday that the state's economy would stage a gradual recovery this year, after a recession that, he said, laid bare the defects in a state economy that relies too heavily on industries such as construction and defense contracting.

"We saw exposed some of the defects in the way the Maryland economy of the 1970s and 1980s was assembled," Mark L. Wasserman, head of the state's Department of Economic and Employment Development, said during an annual review on Maryland's economy. "We were too reliant on construction."

Maryland has been criticized by private economists who contend that, before the recession, the state got a higher percentage of its jobs -- about 6.5 percent -- from construction than any state but Nevada.

The construction sector was devastated by the sharp slowdown of housing and commercial construction in 1990 and 1991, the effect of which continued into last year.

Mr. Wasserman said the state was also the fifth-most dependent in the nation on defense contracting, a pattern he said defense contractors were scrambling to address by diversifying into civilian technologies in anticipation of more defense cuts.

But Mr. Wasserman's basic message yesterday was bullish, saying the state would recover slowly during the early months of 1993 before the economy picks up steam later in the year. Even the state's fiscal situation was brightening: Sales tax revenues from the past two months of 1992 showed improvement, he said.

"The Maryland economy has turned the corner," he said.

The weak spot in the 1993 recovery, however, was expected to be one of the most important economic measures of all -- job growth.

In particular, many of the manufacturing jobs that disappeared during the recession were shoved into extinction more by ` `TC long-term shift toward a service-based economy than by the recession, Mr. Wasserman said, meaning they weren't likely to come back.

He said the push for higher manufacturing productivity meant that manufacturers would try to do more work with fewer people and "doesn't bode well for new hires."

The state's manufacturing sector lost 4.4 percent of its jobs during the year that ended last October, he said, including a 6.8 percent decline in jobs manufacturing durable goods.

Mr. Wasserman said the state government's medium-term strategy would be to strengthen sectors other than defense and construction.

In particular, he said, the state wants to build a base in emerging manufacturing industries such as biotechnology and information technology to diversify the state economy.

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