Growth hit 5-year high in 4th quarter Job prospects in spring much better, survey says

February 27, 1993|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Staff Writer

Job prospects this spring promise to be the best since the recession started, a new survey of local employers has concluded.

Manpower Inc., which surveys 15,000 employers nationwide every three months, found that Baltimore area business people were more optimistic about hiring than they've been in more than two years.

And nationally, the number of businesses planning to add staff hit a four-year high.

The news, released yesterday, was hailed by economists and business people as among the first evidence that the much-predicted recovery might finally be showing up where it affects people most -- in their pocketbooks and job prospects.

"That's fantastic," said H. Russell Frisby Jr., interim chairman of the newly formed Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce.

But, sounding a note echoed by many Maryland business people, Mr. Frisby also said he and the chamber's members were a little skeptical. "There have been so many false starts" of an economic rebound that have lapsed back into recession, he said.

Manpower, a Milwaukee-based temporary services agency, found that 15 percent of Baltimore's employers plan to add permanent workers sometime in the spring of 1993. In December, the survey found that only 3 percent had expected to add staff this winter.

The agency's December survey covered employers' expectations for the first three months of 1993. The report released yesterday reflects plans for 1993's second quarter.

The layoff news was also hopeful. Only 2 percent of local employers told Manpower they plan to cut staff any time soon, while three months ago 22 percent had planned to cut. A year ago at this time, the number of Baltimore employers who planned to hire -- 13 percent -- about matched those who planned to fire.

Although there was one trouble spot, Annapolis, the news across the rest of the state was also good.

In statistics that matched the regional and national rates, one in four Maryland employers reported plans to hire staff in the second quarter of 1993, nearly double the rate that reported planning to do so in the first quarter. And only about 6 percent plan to lay off, less than half the rate of the December survey.

The strongest hiring prospects were in the Columbia and Linthicum areas, where nearly four out of 10 employers plan to hire, and none reported layoff plans.

The worst prospects were in Annapolis, where 13 percent of employers plan to hire, but 17 percent plan to lay off, a worsening compared to previous surveys.

The industries with the best job prospects were manufacturing, retail and services, the survey found.

Rosalind Greenstein, who watches the Maryland economy for the forecasting firm of DRI/McGraw Hill, said the survey's numbers jibe with her predictions that the job market here would start the year down, but then rebound.

"This year will definitely be better than 1992," she said. But Ms. Greenstein warned that Maryland's recovery would be slow and difficult because, of all the states from Delaware to the south, Maryland was hit the hardest by the recession .

"Maryland's strengths were its weaknesses" in the last recession as defense, construction and finance-related companies, which had buoyed the state in the 1980s, took the worst beating in the early 1990s.

"Some of those jobs won't come back," she said, explaining that the state's entire economy will have to evolve to meet the new realities of less defense spending and a reduced need for construction.

Local employers were cautiously optimistic about the survey.

Bobbie Messenger, owner of the Ellicott Mills Gallery, said she's planning to add an employee sometime this year because her customers of wildlife prints seem to spending more. "January and February were better than normal. . . . Maybe this spring I will expand a little bit," Ms. Messenger said.

But many local employers said they are only just beginning to see slight glimmerings of improvement.

John L. Adams, owner of Early Bird Construction in Bel Air, said he had to lay off bricklayers in December -- the earliest winter layoff in the 16 years he's been in business.

But he's noticed that sales of development lots are picking up. "So there are definitely some signs that this spring will be better," he said.

Likewise, Mort Blankman has had to cut the hours of his five staffers at the Passenger Stop bookstore and travel equipment store in Baltimore to avert layoffs. "February has been dreadful," he said. But he's hoping that bad weather, not a travel slowdown, is to blame.

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