Marylanders' job prospects are blooming this summer, as nearly a third of the state's employers plan to add staff in the next three months, according to a survey released today.
Manpower Inc.'s quarterly survey of businesses showed employers were planning expansions in St. Mary's County, Salisbury and even long-troubled Baltimore.
The statewide hiring picture, while positive, was about the same as last year, as 29 percent of Maryland employers told Manpower they planned to add staff, and only 5 percent said they planned to lay off workers.
Marylanders' plans were slightly more optimistic than the national average.
"Maryland is really going to have a good year," said Michael Conte, a University of Baltimore economist who studies the region's job market.
Until recently, Maryland's economic recovery lagged that of the rest of the nation, he said.
"The jobless recovery was true in spades," Mr. Conte said.
But starting last fall, job creation here has been increasing steadily.
And this year, Dr. Conte expects the number of jobs in the state to grow by about 2 percent, which will likely match the national growth rate.
According to the survey, Southern Maryland's job market will be the state's most improved, as 57 percent of the employers in St. Mary's County said they planned to add staff -- up 20 points from last summer.
The economies in Prince George's County and the Eastern Shore also promise continued growth, as about 40 percent of those employers plan to add staff, doubling last year's expansion rate.
Even the bad news in the survey was tempered by optimism. In Columbia, for example, the share of companies planning to hire fell 20 percentage points from last summer's rate, but remained a healthy 27 percent.
And although Baltimore continues to lag the nation and the state in job growth, the region's economy brightened as 19 percent of employers reported plans to add staff. Last summer, only 11 percent of employers had expansion plans.
Dennis Lanahan, manager of the Baltimore office of Maryland's Job Service, which helps connect unemployed people with employers, says the number of job openings called in to his central Baltimore office has doubled from last May.
"This time last year, we had a lot of applicants and not a lot of opportunities," he said.
But this year, with about the same number of applicants, he can offer a wide range of jobs -- from typing to mechanical repair to managing.
"Things started picking up two or three months ago . . . The staff is more optimistic" about applicants now, he said.
The brightest job prospects are in the construction, manufacturing and retail industries, reported Manpower, a Milwaukee-based temporary services company.
But local employers warned that because painful memories of the recent recession are still new and sharp, their optimism is tempered by fear.
"I'm doing measured, slow growth because I don't like laying people off," said Deborah Voso, a financial planner who is going to double the staff in her two-person office in Frederick.
Ms. Voso, who is president-elect of Frederick County's Chamber of Commerce, said she's noticed strong growth in a few industries, such as services, but says the region is still suffering from continued layoffs in banking and insurance.
,.5l Likewise, Jeff Baer, owner of a home building company in Salisbury, said that while his business has improved over last year, he hasn't added staff.
The recent increase in interest rates put a damper on housing demand in recent weeks, he said.
Besides, he said, last year it cost him money to keep his regular crew of six builders on the payroll during the lean times. This year, he says, there is just enough work to keep them busy.
"This is one of the toughest businesses to look ahead in because of the ups and downs of the economy. . . . Planning is almost impossible," he said.
Nevertheless, he's harboring expansion plans. Mr. Baer said he may hire more builders this fall.
I= "Business is recovering," he said, "but not drastically."
Percent of employers planning to hire during the July- September quarter:
Area ......... .......... Pct planning to hire
Annapolis .... .......... 20%
Baltimore .... .......... 19
BWI Airport .. .......... 20
Charles/Calvert Cntys ... 30
College Park/Sil.Spr. ... 33
Columbia ..... .......... 27
Frederick .... .......... 33
Gaithersburg.. .......... 23
Hagerstown ... .......... 31
Greater Laurel .......... 23
Rockville/Bethesda ...... 33
St. Mary's County ....... 57
Salisbury .... .......... 40
South Central P.G. ...... 41
Washington Metro ........ 28
State Average ........... 29