Howard is state's commute leader

62 percent of residents cross lines to work outside of the county

September 08, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Most of the people who live in Howard County work somewhere else -- and most of the people who work in Howard County live somewhere else.

Coming and especially going, it's the cross-commuting capital of the state.

Sixty-two percent of county residents leave the area to work, according to the 2000 Census -- the largest share among Maryland counties. People who live outside the county hold more than half of Howard's 134,000 jobs.

It's a phenomenon fueled by economics, real estate prices and plain luck-of-the-draw location.

"It's 22 miles between the two beltways, and most of that territory is Howard County," said Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of the county's Economic Development Authority. "There's a tremendous mixing of people."

By comparison, 62 percent of Baltimore residents also work in the city, the exact opposite of Howard's situation.

Allegany County -- bordered by Pennsylvania and West Virginia -- loses the fewest workers. Only 15 percent commute out of the county to jobs, and most who go are leaving Maryland.

Overall, about 47 percent of state residents leave their counties to work.

Story is pleased that the proportion of Howard residents heading out five mornings a week has dropped slightly since 1990, and he wants to continue the trend. But he figures a sizable group will always cross county lines.

A key reason many people move to Howard County is so spouses can commute to other locations, he said.

That's true for Ken and Linda Adams. He is an administrator at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. His wife is an administrator at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the city.

They moved to Ellicott City eight years ago to split the commute difference.

"I don't know any other location that would be comparable," said Ken Adams, who generally drives about an hour to work.

He can see why about 93,600 people are commuting out. It's a community of highly paid, highly specialized workers.

"There's no job for me in Howard County," he said. "Although there might be a job for my wife, she's been at the School of Public Health for a while and doesn't want to leave. We don't have too many options."

Carroll County is in a similar situation -- 55 percent of residents worked out of the area in 2000, according to the census. A telephone survey conducted in the spring found that they were better paid than their in-county counterparts and most likely held jobs in management or computer and math fields.

But Carroll's commuting patterns also underscore a simple demographic fact: The county has a labor force of 84,200 residents and about 49,700 jobs.

Howard, on the other hand, has had the fastest job growth rate in the state -- 65 percent over the past 10 years, Story said. He expects the number of jobs will equal the number of residents within half a decade.

Westminster Mayor Kevin Dayhoff would love that kind of balance. He is encouraging developers to build places to work, not just homes.

"We have a lot of folks that are moving into our community, and they're commuting an hour and a half in the morning for a meaningful job," he said. "That's 15 hours a week that those folks could be committing to their families, they could be committing to their PTA or any of the local service organizations. ... I think it's a critical community issue."

But matching residents and jobs is rarely a simple matter.

In Howard County, part of the cross-commuting is fueled by the county's high housing costs, which is keeping some who work in the area from moving in.

"The rental market in Howard County is so tight," said Joe Staub, president of the Howard County Education Association, which represents teachers, instructional assistants and clerical support staff. "I think a lot of younger [teachers] live outside the county because of that."

Overall, jobs in the county pay well -- enough that a two-income family could beat the Howard median household income of $74,167.

Last year, the average county-based position had a salary of $40,196, according to the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Only Baltimore City ($40,456) and Montgomery County ($45,864) had higher averages.

As director of crime analysis for the Montgomery County Police Department, Columbia resident Skip Baylor earns more than he could in Howard County, but his career choice isn't entirely based on salary.

He has been with the Police Department 17 years, and he is not planning to switch locations now. "I'll tell you, there are certainly inclement weather days that I wish that I worked locally," said Baylor, whose wife is a nursing supervisor in Columbia. "But that's the price you pay."

Sun electronic news editor Mike Himowitz contributed to this article.

Commuters

Roughly 47 percent of Maryland residents commute out of their home counties to work. Here's the breakdown for the Baltimore region:

Anne Arundel County: 44 percent

Baltimore County: 47 percent

Baltimore City: 38 percent

Carroll County:55 percent

Frederick County: 41 percent

Harford County: 48 percent

Howard County: 62 percent

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