Study ranks county high for affluence, education

March 11, 1994|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Sun Staff Writer

If you are young, well paid and highly educated, you'd feel right at home in Howard County. It's one of the nation's 20 hottest havens for companies and workers in the increasingly information-based economy, according to American Demographics Magazine.

"The brain power of this country is focused in these areas," said Peter Francese, founder of the Ithaca, N.Y.-based publisher. Using a set of strictly defined criteria, he organized the study of 1990 census data to find the nation's pockets of affluent, educated professionals.

"Many of these areas, Howard County in particular, are perfectly suited for the information economy. They are incubators for young, very smart white-collar employees," Mr. Francese said.

"We are extremely pleased with this report," said Dick Story, director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority. "In fact, we plan to use it to show the bond houses so we can get an improved bond rating before we go to the bond market this spring."

The American Demographics study found that Howard has the fourth-highest concentration of affluent, well-educated residents between 35 and 54 in the nation. Douglas County, Colo., in suburban Denver, led the list, and Loudon and Prince William counties in Northern Virginia also made the list.

The study looked specifically for areas of the country with populations between 50,000 and 500,000 that had experienced at least 15 percent growth during the 1980s and had a median household income of at least $30,000.

The other criteria were that at least 25 percent of residents were between the ages of 35 and 54; that the same percentage have college degrees; and that at least 70 percent of the homes be owner-occupied.

Of the nation's 3,142 counties, 20 met those standards. Howard was the only Maryland county on the list.

Montgomery County, which has a higher percentage of residents with college degrees than Howard and almost the same median household income, did not make the magazine's list because its population of 757,000 exceeded the study's limit.

Mr. Francese said researchers decided to include only areas with fewer than 500,000 residents because areas with bigger populations are generally too large for any significant growth during the next decade.

Factors that placed Howard on the list included:

* Its 58 percent population growth during the 1980s, which gave it a population of 187,000 by 1990.

* Its median household income in 1989 of $54,407 annually.

* Its median age of 32.

The county also has a high proportion of college graduates -- 46 percent, which is far above the 20 percent national average.

"Columbia's founding was really the catalyst for this trend, but the dynamics were already there," Mr. Story said. "The county's location made it a wonderfully compelling place to live for dual-income families splitting work commutes between Baltimore and Washington."

Mr. Story said a county's labor market demographics are among the statistics most commonly requested by executives looking for places to expand.

Howard County has had great success recently in attracting nationally known service-oriented businesses offering well-paying jobs to professionals, planners and economic development officials say. Among them are Ford Motor Credit, a credit processing center for the automaker; and J. P. Food Service, one of the nation's largest independent food distributors.

Most of the study's findings came as no surprise to people paid to watch such trends.

Roselle George, a planner and demographer with the Howard County Planning and Zoning Department, said a recent computer study of the county's 1990 census data found that Howard led the nation in many categories besides affluence and educational attainment.

The demographic study found that Howard has the third-highest concentration in the nation of black families earning more than $50,000 annually and the fifth-highest concentration in the nation of residents who hold managerial or executive jobs.

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