'Moderate recovery' forecast for Md. Shore, Western areas may be weak spots

January 05, 1994|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

Maryland's economy has turned the corner and appears to be heading toward a moderate recovery, but not all regions of the state are expected to share equally in the better times ahead.

This was the assessment of Maryland's economic health offered yesterday by Mark L. Wasserman, secretary of the state's Department of Economic and Employment Development, in the department's annual outlook briefing.

Mr. Wasserman said the Washington suburbs should "emerge more quickly and more robustly" from the recession than the rest the state and serve as the engine that powers Maryland's recovery. He said this was because the economic base of the region was technologically oriented.

The Baltimore metropolitan area, Mr. Wasserman said, is showing all the signs of pulling out of the recession but its growth this year would likely lag behind that of the Washington suburbs. He said Baltimore would keep pace with the rest of the state.

Frederick County, with its lower land costs, should benefit from a new wave of high-technology development spreading out from Montgomery County, he said.

But the outlook is not as promising for Western Maryland, particularly Allegany County, Mr. Wasserman said. This region should experience some growth in the new year, but not enough to keep pace with the rest of the state.

The Eastern Shore, he said, has also had some setbacks, including the announced closings of the Campbell's Soup plant and the Grumman Corp.'s aircraft cable factory, but it has benefited from other investments in the region. Longer term, he said, the area has to diversify its business base and become less dependent on the poultry industry.

Mr. Wasserman said tourism should be developed further but said that his department was not in a position to promote Maryland properly. Noting that surrounding states spend two to three times as much as Maryland on promoting their attractions, he said the department would be seeking additional funding from the legislature to boost this industry.

Mr. Wasserman said that accurately projecting the economy's future has become more difficult because some of the benchmarks are changing. He noted that the average factory workweek in Maryland had risen to 42 hours, its highest level since the state began keeping such statistics in 1972. In the past, such an increase would have stimulated hiring by manufacturers, but so far it is not happening this time around, Mr. Wasserman said.

Other factors, he said, include the continued shrinking of the defense industry, the growth of new technology and the ability of companies in the state to compete in the international marketplace.

He listed a number of other developments that support his predictions of better times ahead, including:

* A 4.7 percent increase in passenger traffic between January and November of last year at Baltimore-Washington International Airport when compared with the same period in 1992.

* The addition of 9,400 new service jobs between October 1992 and October 1993. He said many of them were well-paid `D positions in the business services and health services fields.

* Maryland's per capita personal income was $22,974 in 1992 (the latest reading available), up 3 percent over 1991 and 16 percent above the national average.

* General cargo moving through the port of Baltimore during the first nine months of 1993 was 5.7 percent ahead of the same period for the previous year.

Another reason for encouragement, he said, is that earnings per worker are growing faster than inflation.

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