Maryland: Mired in Recession

November 07, 1993

Maryland's economic development secretary didn't mince words last week: the state remains mired in a prolonged recession that shows few signs of lifting soon. In the near term, Mark L. Wasserman said, growth will be "slow, very slow."

Those aren't comforting words, especially for Mr. Wasserman's boss, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who desperately wants to see an upturn in time for the issuance of next year's budget. Yet it appears a realistic assessment. Mr. Wasserman didn't attempt to sugar-coat his message.

No wonder: Even as the secretary was addressing a legislative committee, Leedmark was shutting its Glen Burnie hypermart, throwing 473 people out of work; USAir Group announced 176 layoffs at BWI Airport; Baltimore Gas & Electric announced its first-ever layoff plan that could affect 600 people; Ceridian Employer Services was mapping plans to lay off 130 workers, and Scios Nova Inc. cut 22 jobs. This comes on top of continuing bad news in recent months, including Arbitron handing out 413 pink slips to workers in Laurel and Beltsville, and Martin Marietta laying off at least 200 workers at its Glen Burnie plant. NationsBank's takeover of Maryland National could lead to staff reductions late this year.

Mr. Wasserman's message wasn't totally bleak. He said the state is in the process of re-focusing its efforts on job-producing industries. Maryland used to be recession-proof because of booming defense and federal employment. But Washington is now cutting back in both sectors. At the same time, the construction industry remains in a deep trough due to the overbuilding binge of the 1980s.

State officials see promising areas of growth in international trade, tourism, publishing, information technology, the life sciences and health care. These aren't the traditional manufacturing businesses but they could offer Marylanders the prospect of good job opportunities in the next decade.

There are, though, signals that 1994 could surprise Mr. Wasserman. A survey of 700 corporate financial officers reflects a rebound in sales and the prospect of new hiring next year. Home sales in the Baltimore area rose for the fifth straight month. The port and the airport reported strong gains in cargo and passengers.

It's hardly a boom, but for the first time in years, some local leaders are cautiously bullish. We seem to have hit bottom and are slowly building a new employment base. It will take time, though, before the good news starts to overhaul the bad.

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