Md. firms optimistic on growth this year 79 percent surveyed expect revenue rise

57% see more hiring

April 18, 1997|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN STAFF

A growing number of Maryland businesses expect to increase hiring and sales this year, a new survey says, yielding more evidence that the state economy is accelerating.

Of 250 companies polled recently by the Maryland Business Research Partnership, 79 percent expect revenue to grow in the next year. That was the category's highest score in the quarterly survey's two-year history.

More than half the companies -- 57 percent -- expect to increase employment. Of those, 13 percent anticipate that employment will "greatly increase."

"It's good news," said Richard Clinch, manager of the partnership, which is supported by area businesses and based at the University of Baltimore. "Firms are just downright optimistic about things."

In all four of the survey's economic categories, Maryland's score rose.

Three months ago 64 percent of the businesses surveyed expected higher sales, and 49 percent reported increased revenue for the previous year; now 54 percent say sales have been growing.

Last quarter, 35 percent said employment had increased in the previous year. Now 40 percent say their payrolls have been growing.

Results rose in the employment expectations category, too. But the figure -- 57 percent expecting payroll increases -- isn't directly comparable with data from previous quarters because surveyors changed the question's wording, Clinch said.

But while the survey portrays economic growth, it also indicates limits to that growth.

Thirty-seven percent of the companies are having trouble finding the workers they need.

Shortages are especially acute in the supply of skilled factory employees, lab technicians, computer programmers, sales people and engineers, Clinch said.

And rising interest rates nationwide, he added, may slow Maryland's performance later this year.

Overall, the results support other data indicating that "we're having the beginning of a relatively strong year, compared with the last several," said Patrick Arnold, director of labor market analysis for Maryland.

For example, Maryland added jobs at a 6 percent annual rate in February, according to preliminary figures from the U.S. Labor Department. Nobody expects that rate to hold up all year, but many economists predict better job-growth results this year than the 1 percent and 1.5 percent annual growth that has typified employment performance in recent years.

Maryland's unemployment rate was 4.5 percent in February, near its low for the decade.

State tax receipts have been swelling -- another indication of an improving economy.

Since June, state sales-tax collections have grown at an annual rate of about 5.5 percent, well above the 3 percent inflation rate.

Income tax withholding has grown at close to a 6 percent rate, and the state recently raised its revenue estimate for this fiscal year by $50 million.

The survey also showed that fewer business people are complaining about Maryland taxes these days. Only 24 percent of the firms surveyed said taxes "negatively impact" their operations. That's a big drop from the 47 percent average for the category in last year's four surveys.

Clinch attributed the drop in complaints to expectation of a tax cut by the General Assembly.

Pub Date: 4/18/97

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